Israel-Hamas truce comes into effect: How it could now unfold

With the truce the first break in fighting after seven weeks, several scenarios in the war are now possible.

Palestinians gather at Al Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City, amid the ongoing ground operation of the Israeli army against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip
Palestinians gather at al-Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City, amid the continuing ground operations of the Israeli army against Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

The mother of the longest-serving female Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails is gripped with anxiety, but for once, optimism too.

The mother of another prisoner arrested just months after he turned 18, is baking chocolate cake and other pastries in anticipation of his release.

In Israel, a grandfather wonders whether his three-year-old granddaughter will be released, the toddler among six other family members held captive by Hamas.

A Tel Aviv developmental psychologist, meanwhile, worries about the post-trauma signs in children when they return from Gaza.

On Friday morning at 7am local time (05:00 GMT), the truce between Israel and Hamas came into force, marking the first break in Israel’s continuous seven-week bombardment of the Gaza Strip following Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.

The four-day pause is expected to see the exchange of 150 Palestinian women and children imprisoned in Israeli jails for 50 women and children hostages held by Hamas. It also offers an opportunity for aid to filter into the battered enclave where nearly 15,000 people have been killed in the bombing, including more than 6,000 children.

Israeli officials, while adamant that the truce is not an end to the war, have also agreed to pause fighting for an additional day for every further 10 captives freed by Hamas.

With the truce the first breakthrough in coaxing a cessation of hostilities after weeks of fighting, several scenarios are possible now that it has come into effect.

Here is a look at some of them:

INTERACTIVE - Gaza truce deal possible scenarios-1700745219
(Al Jazeera)

The truce holds

First, the truce may very well hold, the agreement respected by both parties.

While the prisoners and captives are exchanged, humanitarian aid may enter not just southern Gaza as it has in the past few weeks, but could also enter northern Gaza, where Israeli forces are staging a ground assault, said Aboud Hamayel, a lecturer at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank.

But while humanitarian aid there will be welcomed, the truce will also prompt the question of what should be done with northern Gaza, as it has largely been emptied of Palestinians, said Sami Hamdi, the managing director at International Interest, a political risk firm focusing on the Middle East.

“There will be increasingly loud voices demanding that these Palestinian families be allowed to return to northern Gaza in order to reverse the Israeli attempt at ethnic cleansing,” Hamdi told Al Jazeera.

Despite this, the pause in fighting would be a lifeline for many Palestinians, an opportunity for them to recuperate and “take out people from under rubble”, Hamayel told Al Jazeera.

In Israel, the return of captives may deliver a small public relations victory for embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been facing mounting pressure from their families since their capture, the analyst said.

But it was international pressure in addition to the families’ pressure which obliged the Israeli leader to accept the truce after weeks of refusing similar deals, said Hamdi.

International pressure will therefore be critical to ensuring that both sides uphold the truce, agreed Hamayel, with Western actors particularly interested in maintaining regional stability so that the oil economy doesn’t become too volatile.

The truce is extended

If international pressure succeeds, or if Hamas agrees to free more of the 237 currently held captives, there may be the possibility that the truce not only sticks, but holds beyond the initial four days, for up to about three weeks.

Both sides could use this longer lull in fighting to convalesce, rearrange their troops and gather intelligence for the next phase of the war, said Hamayel.

Israel may also use the pause to scope out Hamas tunnels, which it hasn’t yet done, but has hinted at doing.

Israel, while signalling it has no intention of ending the war, may also prefer a longer pause as the war is draining its economy and affecting its tourism, said Hamayel.

Meanwhile, it may ramp up its raids in the occupied West Bank as the Gaza front cools, the analyst said. More than 226 people have been killed and more than 2,750 injured in the West Bank since October 7.

The truce breaks

The scenario opposite the two previous ones is of the truce breaking, with Israel having more incentives to break it than Hamas, the analysts said.

Hamas doesn’t want to lose credibility with its mediators, while the situation for Palestinian civilians is too dire for the group to risk not giving them a respite from fighting, said Hamayel.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has failed to achieve any of the strategic objectives that he claimed to be seeking when he began military operations, and which compel him to continue the fighting, said Hamdi.

“He hasn’t been able to kill any high-profile Hamas officials. He hasn’t been able to wipe out Hamas in Gaza,’ Hamdi said.

But Hamas and its regional allies would not take Israel’s breaking of the truce lightly, with the Palestinian armed group expected to fire missiles on Israel in response, and the possibility of a gradual escalation in tensions on multiple fronts of the war, said Hamayel.

It is also possible that Hamas may break the truce, with such a response not only prompting Western ire at the group, but it would likely ramp up Israeli aggression from both the air and ground, he added.

Its regional allies would still err on the side of caution, and would work towards pursuing a de-escalation of the conflict, said Hamdi.

A path to ending the war?

Meanwhile, there is a concern among Israeli officials, including Netanyahu’s allies, that “this hostage exchange is essentially a bid to lure Israel into a permanent ceasefire”, said Hamdi.

The prime minister has, as a result, been making assurances that military operations will continue, he added. On Thursday, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that the war would continue for at least another two months after the end of the truce.

But international pressure for a ceasefire is mounting. That was the majority view at a summit of the BRICS grouping earlier this week, the world’s most powerful bloc of emerging economies. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also called for a humanitarian ceasefire.

The truce has opened up a possibility for more diplomatic engagements and solutions to the possible end of a bloody, bitter conflict that has gripped the world, said Hamayel.

Source: Al Jazeera