The United Nations International Court of Justice's decision finding it plausible that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and the intensification of military operations in Khan Younis, a Hamas stronghold in the south of the Palestinian Strip, coincide with intensive diplomatic efforts to achieve a week-long ceasefire. In order to promote a cessation of hostilities that would disrupt the course of the war and lead to the exchange of more than a hundred hostages held in Gaza since October 7 for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the United States this weekend the director of the Gaza Strip CIA dispatched William Burns to a summit at an unspecified location in Europe with the intelligence services of Israel and the mediators of Egypt and Qatar.
“The judges’ decision in The Hague increases pressure on President Joe Biden to demand this [el primer ministro israelí, Benjamín] “Netanyahu has put an end to the war,” says Israeli diplomatic analyst Barak Ravid, who on the digital portal Axios and the Washington Post expected the CIA chief’s direct intervention in the mediation process. “Biden already made it clear to Netanyahu in a telephone conversation a week ago that he would not accept that the war (…) would be extended in an election year in the United States,” emphasizes Ravid.
Biden called the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad al Thani, and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al Sisi on Friday to thank them for mediating the release of those abducted in Gaza. “An agreement on the hostages is essential to ensure a prolonged ceasefire and ensure that vital humanitarian assistance reaches civilians,” said a statement released by the White House after the president's call with the Qatari leader.
The U.S. presidential envoy to the Middle East, Brett McGurk, who took part in the November ceasefire agreement that allowed a hundred kidnapped people to leave Gaza, prepared the ground in Doha this week before traveling to Cairo. In his conversation with Al Sisi, Biden called for “laying the foundations for a lasting and sustainable peace in the Middle East that includes a Palestinian state.”
The director of the Mossad (foreign intelligence agency), David Barnea, and that of the Shin Bet (internal security), Rosen Bar, confirmed, according to the public broadcaster, that they would attend the meeting called by the head of the CIA in Europe of the Israeli Radios KAN. Also present at the conclave would be Egyptian military intelligence director Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abderamán Al Thani, both regular interlocutors of Hamas' political leadership.
The Palestinian Islamic resistance movement, which sparked the conflict on October 7 with an attack on Israeli territory that killed 1,200 people and kidnapped another 240, is calling for an end to the war as the starting point for all negotiations. Israel rejects the requirement that its army stop attacks and withdraw from the Gaza Strip. In return, according to various sources consulted by the Hebrew press, it is offering a ceasefire of 35 to 60 days to release the 136 hostages – at least 29 of them dead – who remain in Gaza.
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During the ceasefire period, the exchange of hostages for prisoners took place in several phases agreed upon by both parties. In a first phase, minors, women, the chronically ill and civilian hostages held by Hamas and other militias such as Islamic Jihad were to be released in exchange for the subsequent release of a number of Palestinian prisoners, whose determination is still pending. The surrender of the kidnapped military wives and the remaining deceased hostages would follow, ending with the release of the captured Israeli officers and soldiers. “The time is right to work towards an agreement.” [sobre los rehenes]thanks to the diplomatic momentum achieved,” predicted analyst Barak Ravid on the digital portal Walla on Friday.
Hamas continues to strongly demand an end to the Israeli military invasion of the Gaza Strip. The strategy suggests that it could demand a large number of released Palestinian prisoners in return for every hostage captured in Israel. Yahya Sinwar himself, political leader of the Islamist movement in Gaza, was released from prison in 2011 as part of the exchange operation of 1,047 Palestinian prisoners that enabled the release of soldier Gilad Shalit, held hostage in Gaza for five years. Last Friday, Hamas released a video showing three female Israeli hostages, two of them soldiers, in an image apparently taken a week ago.
“Prospects for a ceasefire”
In addition to the USA, other Western countries were also directly involved in arranging the release of the hostages through a lengthy ceasefire. At the end of a tour of the Middle East, British diplomatic chief David Cameron assured that progress was being made towards the cessation of hostilities in Gaza, which would lead to the release of hostages and an increase in the importation of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian belt. “There is a prospect of a ceasefire to end the fighting,” Cameron told Portal, who has called on Israel to allow the passage of international aid to the Mediterranean enclave via the port of Ashdod, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the border To the north of the country lies Strip.
In an unchanging mantra, Netanyahu reiterates day after day that the only way to free the hostages he accepts is “total victory” over Hamas, whose political and military weapons he wants to eliminate from the Gaza Strip. In recent days, the prime minister and one of his most extremist allies, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have tried to torpedo Qatar's mediation by accusing the emirate of funding Hamas. On Saturday evening, the Israeli leader insisted that Qatar was a “problematic” mediator. “Qatar hosts Hamas leaders. It also funds and influences Hamas and should put more pressure on it,” Netanyahu said in a televised news conference.
The dispatch of William Burns, a veteran diplomat who has headed the CIA since 2021, to mediate in the Middle East shows the White House's growing interest in unlocking negotiations that have been seeking a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for weeks. John Kirby, the US president's national security spokesman, stressed: “Burns already contributed to the previous hostage-taking agreement, and now he will try a new one.”
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