Analysis: Less than a day left on the Gaza pause, what are the prospects?

After a tense delay on Saturday, the pause seems to be holding. Will Israel and Hamas agree to extend it?

Some Palestinians injured are seen at the Al-Shifa Hospital which houses thousands of injured and displaced people after the 4-day humanitarian pause begins for prisoner exchange between the Israeli army and Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza City, Gaza on November 25
Some injured Palestinians are seen at the al-Shifa Hospital, which houses thousands of injured and displaced people, after the four-day humanitarian pause begins in Gaza City, Gaza on November 25, 2023 [Fadi Alwhidi/Anadolu]

On Sunday, the third day of the truce between Hamas and Israel, both communities appeared to have gotten used to the guns being silent and captives being released.

The first releases of the captives, on Friday, were tense as the procedures were unknown to all. Expectations were high and all waited for those first groups to get home. By Saturday, the media on both sides of the divide was inundated with emotional scenes of families reuniting and embracing their dearest.

At one point on Saturday, it looked like fresh celebrations might have to be postponed – Hamas announced that it would not release the second batch of captives because Israel was not respecting the truce deal.

Israeli forces were shooting at Palestinians trying to reach their homes, Israel was not releasing prisoners according to the agreed guidelines and, most importantly, aid deliveries were short of targets set in the agreement. Hamas warned that unless the agreed number of trucks enter the Strip, with a significant number taking supplies north to what remains of Gaza City, there would be no release.

Qatari and Egyptian diplomats immediately went into overdrive and a frenzy of phone calls and emails is reported to have ensued. In a couple of hours, assurances acceptable to Hamas that the agreed number of aid trucks would get to Gaza before the truce expires on Tuesday morning were issued, and the captives were released late in the evening, the Palestinian detainees minutes later.

The two divided communities took to the streets to vent 50 days of fear, anxiety and frustration in mass displays of emotion. In Tel Aviv, 100,000 Israelis rejoiced, half an hour’s drive away in Ramallah, Palestinians went around town singing and dancing. The celebrations repeated on Sunday.

Saturday clearly demonstrated how much the world wants and needs this truce to succeed. Even limited as it is, and only four days, it is nevertheless the first positive development since October 7 and the international community is eager to extend it, hoping to make it permanent. We have heard that efforts are ongoing, although no details have leaked yet, but I am certain that the success of brokering the current truce encouraged countries to express to the warring sides, either directly or through Qatar and Egypt, their desire for the conflict to end and support for any deal the parties reach.


So strong is the desire for a feeble, limited pause to become a more lasting cessation of hostilities, that any inconvenience that could mar it is pushed aside, minimised or ignored. Like the Israeli forces killing of eight Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Sunday. It made the news but nobody, Palestinian authorities included, pushed for the condemnation of the perpetrators or raised the issue with any international organisation. The truce seemed more precious than a few civilian lives.

Even before the fighting paused Friday morning, it was clear that the warring sides and regional powers agreed that it should be given a chance and not be upset by any irresponsible act. The biggest worries were that Hezbollah, or the Houthis might continue or even step up their attacks on Israel, endangering the fragile ceasefire. Neither group was party to the agreement, so they did not have any obligation to honour it.

Again, as several times earlier during the last seven weeks, Iran stepped in with uncharacteristic delicacy. To make sure Hezbollah would not do anything reckless, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian flew to Lebanon on Thursday, as pre-truce bombardments were still ongoing, to meet with Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah. Tehran’s message was clear, and the minister repeated it to the media: If the then-tentative truce is not observed, “the scope of the war will expand”.

Known for its effective command and disciplined officers and soldiers, Hezbollah clearly decided to conduct itself as its mentors expected. Only one incident was reported, on Saturday, when Hezbollah fired a missile at an Israeli observation drone over Lebanese territory. Israel retaliated with artillery fire directed at the missile site but it seems that neither side wanted to escalate further.

The Houthis were not subject to the same degree of attention from Tehran, so they showed less restraint. New missile launches against Israel – 2,000km (1,240 miles) away – were recorded after the start of the truce. No projectile managed to get through the multilayered defences consisting of US Navy destroyers in the Red Sea, an Israeli navy corvette in international waters at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba and Israeli air force aircraft ready to intercept anything that manages to squeeze through the shipborne defences.

In a further escalation, the Houthis continued threatening cargo ships with alleged links to Israel. Just days after hijacking the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader, on Saturday their armed drones attacked the Malta-flagged CMA CGM Symi without attempting to board it, unlike the next incident on Sunday when they first attacked from the air and then tried to hijack the Central Park, flying the Liberian flag. US Navy destroyer USS Mason, patrolling the Gulf of Aden, intervened, forcing the attackers to flee the ship.

The Houthis, known for tenacity and aggressiveness, obviously do not feel obliged to refrain from attacking what they see as Israeli assets, so it is a blessing that their arsenal appears unable to mar the current agreement.

After three days of quiet and captives from both sides coming home, we should remind ourselves that this almost idyllical respite is only scheduled to last until Tuesday and that in less than 24 hours, explosions will again rock the Gaza Strip and more people, civilians and soldiers, will be killed.

As the expiry of the truce neared, both sides toyed with the possibility of extension. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, venturing into Gaza territory for a brief propaganda photo op amid heavy security, hinted that the truce could be extended if Hamas continued releasing hostages and that every group of 10 would buy another day of pause. Hamas told the Reuters news agency that it is seeking to extend the truce but wanted more Palestinians freed from Israeli jails.

While something might be cooking under a tightfitting lid and civilians in Palestine and Israel seem hypnotised by three days of “peace”, soldiers and politicians remind them that it is only a pause after which the fighting is scheduled to continue. Chief of General Staff General Herzi Halevi said on Sunday that once the pause expires, his forces “will return to our operations with determination, for the continued release of the hostages and the complete dismantlement of Hamas”. The message was repeated by Netanyahu later as he vowed to continue “until victory”.

Barring some last-minute miracle, it will be legal for both sides to resume military activities at 7am sharp on Tuesday 28 November. I have never seen a ceasefire last until the agreed-upon moment: Usually, they are either extended by an agreement made while they still last or they are broken before the deadline.

In the absence of an official extension, it is very likely that fighting might resume on Monday night after the last batches of hostages are out and the last aid trucks are in. Realising that the last prisoner exchange is over, soldiers might not see a need to wait for hours until the official expiration. Any shot fired at or near the current front lines on Monday night will probably signal to every fighter to return to war with all his might.

The only way to prevent the unravelling of the truce is to announce its extension before the last captives are freed on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera