Diplomatic dash as end of Israel-Gaza truce looms

US president says his goal is to prolong the truce as Israel and Hamas express their conditions for an extension.

President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14
Biden expressed his happiness over the release of the four-year-old American-Israeli captive, Abigail Edan [Susan Walsh/AP]

Intense negotiations were under way as the truce in the Israel-Gaza war entered its final day.

Statements from Israel, Hamas, the United States and others, released overnight and into the morning, stressed the urgency of extending the four-day pause in the war, which is due to end on Monday.

The diplomatic drive is continuing as the two sides prepare a fourth captive-prisoner swap. Israel has said it is prepared to pause its onslaught on the enclave by one day in exchange for the release of 10 additional captives, although it has also reiterated its intention to continue fighting until “victory”.

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that he hoped the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas could continue as long as captives were being released. The Palestinian group freed 17 more people yesterday, including a four-year-old Israeli-American girl.

Extending the truce “is my goal, that’s our goal, to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza,” Biden told a news conference.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to visit Israel on Monday, before heading to Brussels to attend a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, where the crisis in Gaza is expected to be discussed on the sidelines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he spoke to Biden about the captive release. However, he said he also told the US leader that, at the end of the truce, Israel would return with full force to achieve its goals for the elimination of Hamas and the release of all captives.

Netanyahu became the first Israeli leader since 2005 to appear in Gaza on Sunday. Standing on a tank in fatigues, he reiterated the war aims to soldiers, but also mentioned the possibility of extending the truce.

Hamas said it wanted to extend the pause in fighting if serious efforts were made to increase the number of Palestinian detainees released by Israel.

A spokesperson said that the group that governs Gaza would like the fighting to be paused for “as long as prisoners keep coming out”.

The Palestinian Authority said on Monday afternoon that Qatar, Egypt, the US, the EU and Spain are working to extend the deal.

Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the current truce could be extended for “one, two, three days” but added that no one knows exactly for how long.

Four rounds of exchanges

Thirty-nine teenage Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel on Sunday, taking the total since the truce began to 117.

Hamas said it had handed over 13 Israelis, three Thais and one with Russian citizenship in the fourth phase of the truce deal exchanges between the two sides. The Palestinian group has released a total of 58 captives, including 39 to Israel.

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it had successfully transferred the latest group from Gaza on Sunday.

Biden said that he believed “all the players in the region are looking for a way to end this so the hostages are all released and … Hamas is completely no longer in control of Gaza”.

He also expressed his happiness over the release of the four-year-old American-Israeli captive, Abigail Edan.

The four-day truce agreed last week is the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas’s October 7 attack, which, Israel says, killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages back into Gaza.

In response to that attack, Israel has bombarded the enclave and mounted a ground offensive in the enclave. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

‘Extension is unlikely’

Despite the diplomatic efforts, there is some doubt in the region that an extension to the truce is possible.

It’s unlikely to happen, given the messages coming from the Israeli side, Ibrahim Abusharif from Northwestern University in Qatar said.

“I also think a ceasefire is not the same as putting out the fire to the original spark – the original point of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” he told Al Jazeera.

“If they are just extending the truce for a few days, and resuming the carnage, it doesn’t seem like an effective way to move forward. It’s not moving forward at all.”

Israeli Army Radio said on Monday that the government in Tel Aviv was awaiting Hamas’s response on extending the truce for an additional day in exchange for the release of 10 detainees.

Blinken spoke with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry on Sunday to discuss obstacles threatening Israel’s truce with Hamas and ways to reach a comprehensive ceasefire, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Meanwhile, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi will visit New York this week to hold a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Israel-Hamas conflict, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry said.

The EU’s top foreign policy official Josep Borrell also joined the push to maintain the truce.

“The pause should be extended to make it sustainable and long-lasting while working for a political solution,” he said on Monday at the start of a meeting of the intergovernmental organisation Union for the Mediterranean, at which Israel was absent.

The European official called for a “political solution that should allow us to break the cycle of violence once and for all”.

“Nothing can justify the indiscriminate brutality Hamas unleashed against civilians” on October 7, he said. “But one horror cannot justify another horror.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that an extension of the truce “would allow for much-needed relief to the people of Gaza and the release of more hostages”.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, he also said Iran should rein in its “proxies” in what was likely a reference to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies