February 22, 2024

In a surprising turn of events, ten Israelis and two Thai captives managed to escape captivity against the backdrop of media reports mentioning Qatar’s intervention in resolving the Gaza war. The Qatar-brokered ceasefire deal was rumored to cover the potential release of the remaining 150 hostages, in exchange for the liberation of a significant number of Palestinian security convicts. However, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party dismissed such claims and declared that the rescue plan was not up for negotiation. He firmly stated, “We will continue [the war] until, with God’s help, we achieve absolute victory over the Hamas Nazis.”

Amidst these developments, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to visit the region. The security cabinet convened for a late-night meeting in Tel Aviv, coinciding with ongoing discussions in Qatar to extend the hostage agreement beyond its expiration date on Thursday. The proposed formula by Hamas entailed the release of 10 Israeli hostages in exchange for a period of 24 hours of peace.

The Israeli officials’ unwavering determination to honor the agreement was evident despite minor violations committed by the Palestinians, who planted explosive devices near IDF troops in northern Gaza. This initiative aimed to secure the release of hostages held by multiple groups across separate locations within the Gaza Strip.

The war was temporarily paused for an additional 48 hours. As part of the deal, aerial surveillance was suspended over Gaza for about six hours daily, allowing Hamas to locate the hostages. Similarly, the Pentagon halted its reconnaissance activities in the area during the same intervals. It is noteworthy that negotiations with Qatar were already underway to resolve the hostage crisis and the ongoing conflict.

A prominent diplomatic delegation including Mossad chief David Barnea and CIA chief William Burns, was present in Qatar to deliberate on the prospects of extending the agreement. The leaders intended to build on the progress achieved during the initial pause and lay the groundwork for a potential deal’s next phase.

Israel’s commitment to freeing all hostages, particularly the soldiers, was further emphasized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his engagement with Barnea in Qatar. Notably, it was revealed that the United States was pressuring Israel to observe a more restrained approach in protecting civilians and preventing significant infrastructural damage in the event of renewed hostilities.

This coercive strategy extended beyond verbal reaffirmations, with concrete efforts being put into place – including US military-led aid flights landing in northern Sinai to deliver essential supplies to Gaza. The officials also highlighted the urgent need to scale up humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza through commercial contracts, with benchmark figures suggesting an escalation from 240 to 400 truckloads per day.

Incorporating diplomatic, political, and humanitarian dimensions, this multi-faceted situation necessitates precise coordination and decisive action for a swift and effective resolution.