Israel signals readiness for new temporary truce in Gaza as pressure mounts

Hamas says it will not enter negotations over releasing captives until Israel ends its war on Gaza.

Ruby Chen, father of Israeli hostage Itay, held in Gaza since the October 7 attack, lifts an hourglass as he delivers a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on December 16, 2023. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
Ruby Chen, father of Israeli hostage Itay, held in Gaza since October 7, lifts an hourglass as he delivers a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on December 16, 2023 [File: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP]

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has said his country is willing to agree a new temporary truce with Hamas in Gaza to secure the release of more captives held by the Palestinian group.

“Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages,” Herzog told a gathering of ambassadors on Tuesday.

The comments come amid growing international pressure on Israel to pause its assault on Gaza and to allow more humanitarian aid into the besieged territory.

A previous Israel-Hamas agreement mediated by Qatar and Egypt led to a week-long truce at the end of November during which Hamas released 86 women and children it was holding in exchange for 240 Palestinian women and teenagers held in Israeli jails. Hamas also released 24 foreign nationals during the pause in fighting.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who also serves as the Gulf state’s foreign minister, Mossad Director David Barnea and CIA Director Bill Burns held talks in Poland on Monday to discuss a potential new deal to secure the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians in Israeli prisons and a humanitarian pause in the fighting.

“The talks were positive with negotiators exploring and discussing different proposals in an attempt to progress on negotiations,” a source briefed on the diplomatic efforts told the Reuters news agency. “An agreement is not expected imminently, however.”

Hamas said in a statement on Tuesday that it rejects any forms of negotiations about prisoner exchanges “under the continuing Israeli genocidal war.”

The Palestinian group said it is open to any initiative that contributes to “ending the aggression” and opening border crossings “to bring in aid and provide relief to the Palestinian people.”

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith said the statements from Herzog and Hamas on Tuesday indicate some progression towards a potential truce.

“The question will be whether it is just that, a pause – a humanitarian pause – as the Israelis would call it, or a full ceasefire,” Smith said, reporting from Tel Aviv.

The war has flattened large parts of northern Gaza and driven most of the population to the southern part of the besieged territory, where many are in crowded shelters and tent camps. Some 1.9 million Palestinians – about 90 percent of Gaza’s population – have fled their homes.

At least 19,667 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza since, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Israel launched the assault on Gaza after Hamas fighters from the territory stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 others hostage, according to Israeli officials.

Israel is facing growing international pressure to scale back its offensive as the civilian death toll in Gaza continues to soar.

France, the United Kingdom and Germany on Sunday added their voices to calls for a ceasefire, while US President Joe Biden last week called the bombing “indiscriminate”.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is expected to vote later on Tuesday on a resolution calling for a halt to the fighting in Gaza.

Earlier, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the war in Gaza is a “moral failure” of the international community, calling on Israel and Hamas to reach a new truce to halt the fighting.

“I have been speaking of moral failure because every day this continues is a day more where the international community hasn’t proven capable of ending such high levels of suffering and this will have an impact on generations not only in Gaza,” ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric told journalists in Geneva following trips to the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies