Israel and Hamas on Wednesday agreed to a four-day cease-fire in the war in Gaza — a diplomatic breakthrough that will free dozens of hostages held by militants as well as Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and bring a large influx of aid to the besieged territory.
The truce raised hopes of eventually winding down the war, which was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 deadly rampage into Israel. Now in its seventh week, the war has leveled vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank, and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a nationally televised news conference that the war would resume after the truce expires. Israel’s goals are to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and return all 240 hostages held captive in Gaza.
“I want to be clear. The war is continuing. The war is continuing. We will continue it until we achieve all our goals,” Netanyahu said, adding he had delivered the same message in a phone call to U.S. President Joe Biden. He also said he had instructed the Mossad spy agency to hunt down Hamas’ exiled leadership “wherever they are.”
The cease-fire efforts hit another hurdle when Israel’s national security adviser said in a late-night announcement that the deal would not take effect before Friday, a day later than originally expected. Tzachi Hanegbi gave no reason for the delay, but Channel 13 TV said there were still some last-minute details being ironed out.
If implemented, the deal temporarily freezes both sides at a tenuous moment.
Israeli troops hold much of northern Gaza and say they have dismantled tunnels and much of Hamas’ infrastructure there. But Israeli officials acknowledge the group’s infrastructure remains intact elsewhere. Netanyahu’s announcement Wednesday appeared to be aimed at public concerns that a truce will lead Israel to halt its offensive before achieving its goals.
Israel has said it is determined to take its ground offensive into the south. That could be potentially devastating for Gaza’s uprooted population, most of which is squeezed into the south with nowhere to go to avoid the assault.
Residents in Gaza City said the fighting intensified overnight into Wednesday, with gunfire, heavy artillery and airstrikes. Palestinian militants continued firing rockets at Israel throughout the day, without causing casualties.
A Diplomatic breakthrough
The announcement of the truce capped weeks of indirect, stop-and-go negotiations to free some of the hostages taken by Hamas and other militants during their Oct. 7 raid. Egypt and Qatar, along with the United States, helped mediate the deal.
Fifty hostages will be freed in stages, in exchange for the release of what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners. Both sides will let go women and children first.
Israel said the truce would be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed by Hamas. Hamas said hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid — including fuel — would be allowed to enter Gaza.
Netanyahu said the deal also included a provision for the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the hostages in captivity.
The cease-fire is to take effect at 10 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) Thursday, according to Egypt’s state-run Qahera TV channel.
Biden welcomed the deal, saying Netanyahu committed to supporting an “extended pause.” Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said he hoped it would eventually lead to a permanent cease-fire and “serious talks” on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 prisoners eligible to be released, mainly teenagers detained over the past year for rock-throwing and other minor offenses.