Anti-Semitic Attack in France's Lyon
Police in the French city of Lyon are hunting for a man who stabbed and wounded a Jewish woman on Saturday, while a swastika was found graffitied at her home. “Such an act of violence is unthinkable. I offer all my support to the victim and her relatives,” said Lyon Mayor Gregory Doucet on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Police in countries around the world have reported a surge in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic offences in the wake of Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7 that killed 1400 people and in a subsequent military response resulted in the death of over 8,000 Palestinians.
A spokesman for the national police gave no further details about the suspect, and said he could not confirm whether police were treating the attack as an anti-Semitic hate crime.
The attack occurred in the afternoon when an individual dressed in dark clothing and with his face concealed knocked on the victim's door, the New York Post reported citing French media. The woman was assaulted soon after she came to the door, and later rushed to a hospital emergency room, the reports said.
They added that the victim had a traditional Jewish symbol on her door, leading the prosecutor's office to suggest there was an “antisemitic motive” in the crime. Almost a month into the Israel-Hamas war, over 800 antisemitic acts have been reported in France, nearly double the total for all of 2022, according to the latest report confirmed on Monday by French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
(With agency inputs)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will pay his third wartime visit to West Asia this week and meet Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.
The US officials gave only a few details about the agenda of the meetings but a report by AFP citing senior American officials said the US secretary of state will discuss the principles he laid out for “future of Gaza and the need to establish an independent Palestinian state”.
“The secretary will stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and improve protection to civilians in Gaza. (He will discuss) the principles he laid out for the future of Gaza and the need to establish an independent Palestinian state,” the official told the news agency.
The US is also pressuring Israel to work with the Palestinian Authority and rein in settlers who have launched attacks against Palestinian villagers in the West Bank since October 7.
Netanyahu is a long-time critic of Abbas and does not prefer the two-state solution.
The US and Biden have backed Israel following the Hamas-led October 7 attacks which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel's deadliest-ever attack.
But they have also expressed concern regarding the Israeli retaliation's toll on civilians, which have galvanised public opinion in much of the world. The bombing and ground campaign has left almost 15,000 people dead, mostly Palestinian civilians, according to Gaza's Hamas government.
US President Joe Biden on Monday (local time) said he and his country will keep working towards the two-state solution and believes that it can bring lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians as Israel and Hamas extended their truce by 48 hours.
“A two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the long-term security of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. To make sure Israelis and Palestinians alike live in equal measure of freedom and dignity, we will not give up on working towards that goal,” Biden said.
Both US President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier said that following the war Gaza should be unified with the Israeli-occupied West Bank under a “revitalised” Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas' PA, also known as Fatah, controls large parts of the West Bank in close coordination with Israel but Palestinians call them “collaborators”.
A report by the New York Times said that only a small section of people in the West Bank as well as Israel feel the authority is capable of governing a post-conflict Gaza. The West Bank Palestinians view Fatah as a subcontractor to the Israeli government which controls almost every aspect of life in the West Bank.
The report also pointed out that without the security provided by the Israeli Army the Fatah may struggle to even survive in the West Bank. It also said that Palestinians consider the Fatah authoritarian, corrupt and undemocratic administration.
The New York Times report said that if elections were held imminently, it is probable, based on what experts and polls suggest, that Hamas would win again.
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An estimated 50,000 demonstrators against antisemitism marched in London on Sunday to protest against a rise in hate crimes against Jews since the attack by Hamas militants on Israel in October and Israel's subsequent bombardment of Gaza.
Protestors carried placards bearing the messages “Shoulder to shoulder with British Jews” and “Zero tolerance for antisemites.” Others showed the faces of Israeli hostages held by Palestinian militant group Hamas. Some people sang in Hebrew while others chanted “Bring them home” in reference to the hostages. “I'm here to support my Jewish community and I think we must stand up for ourselves, otherwise if we won't stand for ourselves who will, you know?” Avraham El Hay, a student, said.
London's Metropolitan Police received reports of 554 antisemitic offences between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1, up from 44 a year earlier, a more than 10-fold increase. Reports of Islamophobic offences almost tripled to 220 in the same period. “I want this march to achieve for people to understand there is no place for racism in this country,” Kate Worth, a travel agent, said. “We are all equal. And it's absolutely unacceptable what is happening right now for Jewish people.”
Police arrested a far-right activist, Tommy Robinson, at the start of Sunday's march after he refused to leave the area at the request of police officers. Organisers of the demonstration had asked Robinson not to attend because of the distress his presence was likely to cause.
Police also arrested a man who they said was heard to make antisemitic comments. Sunday's march took place a day after a latest demonstration in the British capital by pro-Palestinian protestors calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Police estimated 45,000 people marched in the demonstration on Saturday while it said 50,000 took part in Sunday's protest.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism, which focuses on the concerns of Jewish people in Britain, said the gathering was the biggest of its kind since the so-called Battle of Cable Street in 1936 when British fascists clashed with opponents in an area of east London where many Jews lived at the time.
We Continue Till Victory
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday visited Gaza for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began. He is the first prime minister of Israel in two decades to visit the Gaza Strip.
“We continue until the end — until victory,” footage posted online by his office showed him saying, on his first such trip since the war began October 7.
“Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the power, the strength, the will and the determination to achieve all the war's goals, and we will,” he further added.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 to its internationally recognized border with the enclave. It destroyed its 21 settlements there and handed the control of the coastal enclave to the Palestinian Authority (PA) but in 2007 the PA's Fatah Party was ousted from the enclave in a bloody coup.
The Israeli Prime Minister's visit to Gaza comes amid a four-day pause in the Gaza war.
Hamas took about 240 captives from southern Israel in an unprecedented October 7 terrorist attack and killed around 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and embarked on an aerial bombing campaign and ground invasion of Gaza and killed over 15,000 people, as claimed by Hamas.
The ceasefire agreement which spans for four days and is set to expire Monday midnight saw the release of 42 hostages. Hamas is expected to free a total of 50 hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israel over the course of a four-day pause brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.
Hamas on Sunday said that the commander of its northern brigade and four other senior leaders were killed during Israel's offensive against the terrorist group. The Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades said Ahmed al-Ghandour was a member of its military council and said that three others, including Ayman Siyyam, head of its rocket division, were killed. The West Bank branch of Hamas also confirmed that another of its leader died.
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Will Gaza Truce Be Extended
Hamas wants to extend the pause in the ongoing war between the terrorist group and Israel, news agency AFP reported citing people familiar with the developments.
“Hamas informed the mediators that the resistance movements were willing to extend the current truce by two to four days,” the person mentioned above told AFP.
The person also said that Hamas believes it is possible to ensure the release of at least 20 to 40 Israeli hostages if the ceasefire deal is extended. “The resistance believes it is possible to ensure the release of 20 to 40 Israeli prisoners”in that time,” the person further added.
Under the truce deal 50 hostages held by the terrorist are to be freed over four days in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. There is a built-in mechanism in the deal that extends the ceasefire if Hamas releases at least 10 Israeli captives each day.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is yet to show any indication that the offensive will halt anytime soon. He visited Gaza for the first time since the war began on October 7 and also became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit the blockaded coastal enclave since 2005.
“We continue until the end — until victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Gaza on Sunday as he met Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers stationed there. Dressed in green military fatigues, he vowed to free all the hostages and “eliminate Hamas”.
At least 58 hostages have been released from Gaza in the three days of the ceasefire, including citizens from Thailand, the Philippines and Russia. Israeli authorities have released 117 Palestinian women and children who were languishing in Israeli prisons.
The US has backed the plan of extending the ceasefire. Biden expressed a similar hope “so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza”.
At least 120 aid trucks have entered Gaza through the Rafah border on Sunday, the Egyptian government told news agency CNN. The delivery of aid to the blockaded coastal enclave is one the crucial factors in sustaining the ceasefire and hostage-for-prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.
On October 7, Hamas terrorists broke through Gaza's militarised border with Israel in the country's deadliest attack and killed about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners and took around 240 people hostage, according to Israeli authorities.
In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to Gaza's Hamas government.
Israel Reminds Ireland’s Indian-Origin PM of IDF's Role after Hamas Frees 9-Yr-Old Irish-Israeli Girl Updated 8 minutes ago
When nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand was released by Hamas terrorists on Saturday, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy began a war of words on social media site X with the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
Emily was among the latest group of hostages released by Hamas terrorists on Saturday. “This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family. An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered,” Varadkar said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
Israel government spokesperson Eylon Levy reacted to the post by writing: “Emily Hand wasn't “lost”. She was brutally abducted by the death squads that massacred her neighbours. She wasn't “found”. Hamas knew where she was all along and cynically held her as a hostage. And Hamas didn't answer your prayers. It answered Israel's military pressure,” Levy said.
Levy and the Israeli government have been unhappy with Ireland regarding its response to the October 7 attacks.
Israel and Ireland relations have been frustrated because of Ireland's full support of Palestine and Palestinian non-violent political movements.
The Irish PM Varadkar also accused Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission's president, of “lacking balance” and leaning towards Israel.
Ireland was the first EU state to endorse Palestinian statehood – in 1980. The Irish diplomat Niall Holohan who was based in Ramallah from 2002-2006 told the Guardian that Ireland has a history of siding with the ‘underdogs', referring to Palestinians.
“We feel we have been victimised over the centuries. It's part of our psyche – underneath it all we side with the underdog,” Holohan was quoted as saying.
Levy also referred to Irish support for the Palestinian cause in his post. “Without Israel's military pressure on Hamas, which Ireland shamefully called “something approaching revenge,” little Emily Hand would still be a hostage of Hamas. It's not that Hamas “was blind, but now it sees” (if the above statement is an allusion to Amazing Grace),” Levy said.
Amazing Grace is a hymn written in the late 1700s by John Newton.
Hamas on Saturday released a second group of Israeli and foreign civilians it had been holding hostage in the Gaza Strip in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli authorities said 13 Israelis and four Thai citizens had returned to Israel.
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Prison authorities in Israel announced early Sunday that they had released 39 Palestinian detainees, after Hamas freed 13 hostages under an agreement that came into force on Friday.
The freed Palestinian prisoners are all women and people under the age of 19, while the hostages released by Hamas are all women and children.
The agreement is supposed to last four days and allow the release of 50 Israelis and 150 Palestinians.
The exchange, which took place on Saturday, followed an initial swap on Friday when Hamas released 13 Israelis, all women and children, while Israel freed 39 Palestinian detainees, also all women and children.
Celebrations in East Jerusalem welcoming the released Palestinian prisoners were muted, amid heavy Israeli police presence.
The most prominent Palestinian released is Israa Jaabis, 37, who was convicted of detonating a gas cylinder in her car at a checkpoint in 2015, wounding a police officer. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Armed Israeli security forces stood by her house as she returned.
Jaabis' photo, showing her withered fingers and partially burnt face, is regularly used in demonstrations to illustrate the suffering of Palestinian prisoners.
“I'm ashamed to talk about rejoicing when the whole of Palestine is wounded”, Jaabis told journalists in her living room, alongside her 13-year-old son.
“They must release everyone,” she said.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, crowds celebrated and chanted slogans praising Hamas for its role in the agreement.
The Islamist movement controls parts of the West Bank, rivalling Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The Palestinian Prisoners' Club advocacy group reported that 17 Palestinians had been arrested the same day the 39 were released.
Tearful Reunions on Both Sides as Freed Israeli Hostages
Palestinian terrorist group Hamas released a second group of 13 Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners on Saturday. The Israeli authorities responded by freeing 39 prisoners who were held in Israeli custody for various offences.
There was a minor hiccup which led to fears that the hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal would fail after Hamas accused Israel of breaching its side of the agreement. The agreement has also established a four-day ceasefire which is already past its midpoint.
Hamas, in a first, freed one of the people snatched during their bloody assault on the Supernova Music Festival in southern Israel. The terrorist group freed 21-year-old Maya Regev, kidnapped by Hamas in their deadly October 7 assault on the desert rave. Hamas, however, continues to hold her brother, Itay, captive.
The delay in the hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal due to Hamas' displeasure was mediated after the intervention of Qatari and Egyptian mediators and reassurances from Israel.
Following a late-night operation, Red Cross minibuses ferried the hostages late at night through Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt ahead of their transfer to Israel.
Hamas later said it had “responded positively” to Egyptian and Qatari mediators, after they relayed a promise by Israel to “uphold all the conditions of the accord”.
Israeli officials denied any breach of the terms of the pause.
Emotional reunions were reported by the hostage families forum when nine-year-old hostage Emily Hand and Otah met their parents in Tel Aviv.
“We can't find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days,' Otah's family said in a statement. His mother and grandmother were also among those freed.
Meanwhile, in West Bank, muted celebrations amid heavy Israeli police presence and a few crackers greeted 39 Palestinian women and children who were released from Israeli prison.
Among those released were 38-year-old Israa Jaabis, sentenced to 11 years in jail for detonating a gas cylinder at a checkpoint in 2015. Jaabis' famous photo showing her withered fingers and partially burnt face, is regularly used in demonstrations to illustrate the suffering of Palestinian prisoners.
“I'm ashamed to talk about rejoicing when the whole of Palestine is wounded”, Jaabis told journalists in her living room, sitting beside her 13-year-old son.
“I was just waiting for the day I would be released from prison so I could hug my mother like this,” said Rawan Abu Matar, who served eight years for attempting to stab an Israeli soldier.
As Migration to Europe Rises
Rising migration across Europe, including the biggest surge in asylum seekers since a 2015-2016 migrant crisis, is fueling support for far-right and anti-immigration parties, potentially reshaping European politics for years.
Nationalist parties that champion a harder line against immigration are surging in polls and have entered governmentsin countries from Italy to Finland, as anxiety rises about sluggish economic growth and crises from Ukraine to the Middle East. The far right is polling strongly in the continent's two largest countries, Germany and France.
This week's victory in Dutch elections by far-right politician Geert Wilders, who has placed anti-migration policies at the heart of his political platform for the last 15 years, was a powerful sign of how voters are drifting to antiestablishment politicians, analysts said. He will still need to form a coalition in a fractured political landscape, which likely means softening some of his policy goals, but said Thursday that he wants to become prime minister.
Wilders has said he wants strict limits on immigration and no longer wants the Netherlands to accept any asylum seekers. During the election campaign, Wilders tied problems such as the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing to his migration theme, arguing that by slashing the numbers of people who come to the Netherlands, the government could have more money to address other problems.
“It all resonated with his key political message—that it's time to put the Dutch people first again," said Rem Korteweg, a senior fellow at the Clingendael Institute think tank in the Netherlands.
Europe is on track to receive more than a million asylum applications this year, the highest since 2015-2016 when a wave of migrants mostly from the Middle East and Africa sparked a crisis. In September alone there were 108,000 applications, similar to the levels of 2015, according to EU data.Migrants have reached the EU this year primarily by land through the Balkans and by sea across the Mediterranean to Italy.
The figures don't include roughly 4.2 million displaced Ukrainians who have received temporary protection status across Europe since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Overall, migration has hit at least 15-year highs in a number of European countries including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K., according to data from theOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Netherlands net migration figure rose to almost 223,000 in 2022, the highest in two decades in the country of 17.5 million. Last year, asylum applications in the Netherlands rose by a third to 46,400. The Dutch cabinet said in April that it was expecting more than 70,000 asylum claims in 2023, excluding Ukrainians, topping the roughly 59,000 people who arrived in 2015 at the peak of the migration crisis.
Voters can become anxious about immigration when they perceive it to be out of control, such as when people cross the English Channel or the Mediterranean in small boats or illegally breach the U.S. southern border, said Alan Manning, professor of economics at London School of Economics and former chair of the U.K. Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the U.K. government on immigration policy. Problems arise when “there's no ability to say enough—we don't want this."
In September, Slovakia's former Premier Robert Fico returned to power in part by highlighting a surge in illegal migration. That followed victories last year by Italy's right-wing Giorgia Meloni and a new coalition government in Finland earlier this year that included the far-right Finns Party, which made anti-immigration its central pitch.
Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany has moved into second place in the polls over the past year, increasing its share of support by around a third to rise above 20%.
While French elections won't be held until 2027, a recent IFOP poll for French newspaper Le Figaro gave Marine Le Pen's opposition National Rally party an eight-point lead over President Emmanuel Macron's Renaissance.
The surge in asylum seekers is driving many countries to try new policies. Italy struck a deal with Albania for asylum seekers to wait there while their cases are decided in Italy, and Germany recently said it was considering deals with other countries, including some in Africa, to house asylum seekers. An attempt by the U.K. to send migrants to Rwanda has so far been blocked in court. Other countries, such as Hungary, have erected border fences to block asylum seekers.
The rise in legal migration is unfolding as Europe faces severe labor shortages in places such as Germany and the Netherlands, which could worsen as the region's workforce ages and retires. But it also comes during a period of widespread voter disenchantment, partly caused by slow economic growth and high inflation postpandemic and the Ukraine war, which has driven down households' purchasing power.
In Sweden, the government has blamed a rise in violent crime in part on the failure to integrate migrant communities and recently proposed changes that would allow the country to expel migrants or asylum seekers who associate with criminal groups. In Germany, hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving in recent years from Afghanistan and Syria have struggled to enter the country's labor market, according to official data.
Even in countries where far-right parties haven't risen strongly in polls, there are signs of social strain. In Dublin, crowds rioted on Thursday, smashing buses and looting stores in what police described as the worst social unrest in the Irish capital in decades. It followed a stabbing at a school that far-right groups attributed to a foreign migrant. Police haven't identified an assailant.
“Migration is a difficult topic to talk about in politics at the moment," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told a news conference. “In the round, it has been a good thing for Ireland."
Once in power, parties have discovered that reducing migration is easier said than done. The European Union's setup makes a crackdown on migration and asylum seekers especially difficult. The bloc's border-free Schengen zone, the free movement of labor across the continent, and EU rules committing countries to take in asylum claimants fleeing from war or persecution complicate anti-migration plans.
Despite Italy having elected a right wing anti-migration government last year, the number of migrants arriving by sea in to the country so far this year is close to levels last seen during the migration crisis.
The U.K. formally left the EU in 2020 partly to have greater control over its borders by ending the right of Europeans to move to the U.K. without a visa. Last year, legal immigration to the U.K. hit a record 745,000 and remained high in the first half of this year, driven partly by an increase in workers to fill jobs in fields such as nursing, according to data published on Thursday by the national statistics office. The government is also struggling to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers arriving by sea.
Write to Laurence Norman at email@example.com and Tom Fairless at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Live Mint
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WHO Voices Concern as Israel Arrests Gaza Hospital Chief Mohammad Abu Salmiya Published 1 hour ago
The World Health Organization on Friday voiced concern over the fate of the head of Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, whom Israeli forces detained over the facility's alleged use by Hamas.
In a statement the WHO said that the head of the biggest hospital in the besieged Palestinian territory had been arrested on Wednesday along with five other health workers, while they were taking part in a UN mission to evacuate patients.
“Three medical personnel from the Palestine Red Crescent Society and three from the Ministry of Health were detained,” the WHO said.
Since then two of the six have reportedly been released, but “we do not have information about the well-being of the four remaining health staff, including the director of Al-Shifa hospital,” the statement added.
The UN agency called for “their legal and human rights to be fully observed during their detention”.
Hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya has been frequently quoted by international media about the conditions inside Al-Shifa, a major focus of the Israeli ground offensive following attacks by Hamas militants on October 7.
The Israeli army, which raided the hospital last week, has alleged that Hamas fighters used a tunnel complex beneath the facility in Gaza City to stage attacks.
Hamas and hospital officials have repeatedly denied the claims.
On Thursday the Israeli army announced it had arrested the hospital chief, along with a department head.
According to the WHO statement, the organisation has carried out three missions to al-Shifa in the space of a week, on one occasion managing to evacuate 31 babies from the hospital.
During the third mission, on Wednesday, which was carried out in cooperation with the Palestinian Red Crescent, 151 people were evacuated, including patients, their relatives and healthcare workers, according to the WHO.
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Inside the Secret Israel-Hamas Negotiations to Release 50 Hostages
Weeks of secret hostage negotiations with Hamas were hanging by a thread when President Biden phoned the emir of Qatar, a key emissary to the militant group, to deliver an urgent message.
Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, had gone dark after the Israeli military seized control of Al-Shifa hospital, a facility Israel said Hamas used as a command-and-control center. Now that the fighting at the hospital was over, Sinwar had re-emerged from the shadows, and he was ready to negotiate.
“This could be our last chance," Biden told the emir, according to several people with knowledge of the call.
Biden was injecting himself into one of the most complex hostage negotiations in modern history, a diplomatic frenzy that involved the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel's Mossad, Egyptian intelligence officers and Sinwar, an enigmatic leader that Israeli officials say was operating from an underground bunker.
The agreement produced from those negotiations on Wednesday morning faced last-minute drama, with quibbling over the fine print delaying it by a day. But by Thursday evening, Qatari negotiators said the deal was back on to free 50 Israeli hostages held by Palestinian militants in Gaza in return for the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners by Israel, starting on Friday.
The agreement also requires daily pauses in Israel's drone surveillance of Gaza—a key concession that Biden extracted from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials have cautioned that the deal was still fragile, having been negotiated between enemies—Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, and Israel, which has vowed to destroy the Gaza ruler in response to the Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,200 people, most of them Israeli civilians.
By late Thursday evening, negotiators were still working on the fine details, such as the route the hostages would take into Israel.
But the deal marked the first major diplomatic breakthrough of the seven-week-old war. It also cemented a rare channel of communication between the warring parties, raising hopes that further talks can secure the release of other hostages taken on Oct. 7.
The talks unfolded against the backdrop of Israel's sweeping ground invasion of northern Gaza—an escalation that Israeli officials contend piled pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.
U.S. officials, along with Qatari and Egyptian negotiators, feared the clashes at Al-Shifa and other parts of Gaza City, a longtime Hamas stronghold, would close the window to execute a deal.
The broad outlines of the agreement—an exchange of civilian hostages for Palestinian prisoners and aid—were proposed by negotiators weeks ago, but the talks continued to break down as the conflict flared. Hamas threatened to walk out. Both sides haggled over the number of hostages and prisoners to be released. Israel, determined to destroy Hamas, resisted the militant group's demands for a pause in the fighting.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, was coming under heavy pressure at home to break the impasse. The families of hostages held a five-day protest march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and met with members of Israel's war cabinet, fearing the military campaign was putting the hostages' lives in more danger.
The longer the war went on, they said, the higher the risk that Hamas leaders could simply disappear. Hamas had already threatened to execute the hostages in the first week of the war. The captives also risked becoming casualties in Israel's relentless bombing of Gaza.
“Pressure from the families and pressure from within the cabinet convinced Netanyahu to accept the deal," said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli negotiator who brokered a deal that freed an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in 2011.
This account of the negotiations is based on interviews with more than a dozen officials in the U.S. and across the Middle East that were involved in brokering the breakthrough over the last several weeks. Officials discussed the details of the negotiations, which they frequently described as dramatic, intense, frustrating and tedious, in anticipation of the deal going through. Although the parties have all accepted it, it will be days before all the hostages are actually released. One U.S. official reiterated that the deal isn't done until the deal is done.
In the early days of the crisis, top officials from the U.S., Qatar, Egypt, Israel and Gaza began to hold secret talks as part of a special hostage negotiation cell. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan directed Josh Geltzer, a legal adviser to the National Security Council and White House aide, to help create the cell, according to a senior administration official, and it was established in the Qatari capital of Doha.
The cell tackled the problem of negotiating between two warring parties that have no direct channel of communication. Hamas itself was divided between its military and political leadership fighting the war in Gaza, and its political leaders in exile, many of whom live in Qatar.
Qatari officials were expected to press Hamas's political leaders. Egypt's intelligence services had decades of experience dealing with Hamas in Gaza and with Sinwar specifically. The Egyptians had successfully brokered cease-fires in a series of previous wars between Hamas and Israel, and they maintained the only viable channel to Hamas's military leadership in Gaza, according to officials across the Middle East.
Sinwar himself was no stranger to prisoner exchanges. Israel had freed him and more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011 in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for years by Hamas in Gaza.
The cell's work led to an early success: the release of the two American women, a mother and a daughter on Oct. 20. That essentially served as a test case, or “pilot," a U.S. official said, for future releases.
“The cell over time established processes that proved to be effective," said the official. “That led to a very intensified process for the larger release of hostages."
On Oct. 21, Hamas put forward a new proposal to release a large group of women and children hostages if Israel called off its plans for a ground invasion. U.S. officials contacted Israel asking if they would hold off on the ground operation. Israel refused, pointing out that Hamas hadn't supplied a detailed list of the hostages nor proof of life.
Two days later the Qatari prime minister proposed to White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk the release of a large group of women and children in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and more aid and fuel. With Washington's approval, Qatar and Egypt went to Hamas on Oct. 26 to see if they could get the deal done. Hamas was asked for a list of identifying information or so-called proof of life.
Hamas's Sinwar responded to Egypt that he would guarantee the release of the 50 women and children but that he didn't have the full identifying information on those to be released. A few hours later Hamas offered a list of just 10 names.
The U.S. response came immediately: 10 names wasn't enough. Israel also told Egyptian negotiators that the impending ground invasion would pressure Hamas to give in and take the negotiations more seriously.
The ground incursion began the night of Oct. 27, with Israeli tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers spilling into Gaza and clashing with Palestinian fighters while warplanes rained missiles on the strip. Sinwar cut off contact with the Egyptian negotiators.
Developments on the battlefield “impacted the negotiation dramatically," said Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, the Qatari negotiator. “Any escalation will make our task extremely difficult."
The talks resumed days later, with Egyptian intelligence officers trying to coax Hamas into supplying a list of 50 names. On Oct. 31, Israel launched an airstrike targeting a Hamas leader in Jabalia in northern Gaza that flattened entire apartment blocks, killing more than 100 Palestinian civilians in the deadliest single airstrike of the war to date. Egypt, Qatar and Hamas all halted the negotiations in protest.
With the talks teetering, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns and the director of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, flew to Doha to try to obtain more information about the hostages and see if more pressure could be applied on Hamas. Burns met Barnea and Qatari officials in Doha on Nov. 9 in what regional officials saw as a breakthrough in the talks. Officials wrote a rough draft of the deal.
On the morning of Nov. 12, Hamas finally supplied more names of hostages to be released as Israeli troops surrounded Al-Shifa Hospital.
Hamas leaders in Gaza again cut off contact with negotiators. Sinwar sent a message to Egypt saying Hamas would cancel the negotiations completely if the Israeli military didn't call off the operation at the hospital.
That same day, Biden made the first of two calls to the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The lack of identifying information about the hostages from Hamas was impeding the talks, Biden said during an exchange an aide described as “intense."
The president demanded clear information on the 50 hostages including age, gender and nationality. Without that information, the negotiations would fail, he said. The emir made it clear to Biden that he would do everything he could to persuade Hamas to provide the information, the aide said.
Israeli forces seized control of Al-Shifa days later, finding AK-47s, a laptop and other equipment stashed in the hospital that it said was evidence of a command center.
When talks resumed on Nov. 16, negotiators extracted the detailed list of 50 hostages that Hamas slated for release.
The next day Biden, who was in San Francisco for his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, called the Qatari emir. Biden praised Qatar's work on the hostage deal. But he also warned it could be the last chance to execute the deal. Both sides had made concessions in the talks, the president said. Now was the time to get it done.
Qatari officials agreed to prod Hamas and asked Biden for help pressuring Israel to accept the deal. Biden said he had been in frequent contact with Netanyahu about the negotiations.
In the following days, McGurk flew to Doha to hammer out the details of the agreement, now written down in a six-page document, while Burns joined the talks remotely. McGurk also flew to Cairo to meet Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to go through the same document.
Hamas had agreed to most of the draft document, but sticking points remained. There was disagreement over the ratio for exchanging Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, as part of a second wave of releases. The two sides still differed over the length of the pause in fighting.
Hamas was also demanding Israel stop its drone surveillance of Gaza during the pauses—a measure that would hamstring Israel's efforts to pursue Hamas leaders in southern Gaza.
Biden held a series of conversations with Netanyahu on the issues. Israel had initially resisted the request to stop drone surveillance, but at Biden's request, ultimately conceded the point. The U.S., which also conducts surveillance over Gaza, is considering if it will continue its own drone operations and at what scale.
“We are evaluating how the U.S. will adjust its activities in support of these efforts," one U.S. official said.
Hamas publicly accepted the deal on Nov. 21. Israel's government approved it early on Wednesday.
But by Wednesday night, Israel's top national security official, Tzachi Hanegbi, issued a surprise statement saying the deal would be delayed by at least a day. A last-minute issue had come up.
According to negotiators, Hamas asked Israel for a list of the first group of Palestinian prisoners to be released so it could inform their families. When Israel turned down the request, Hamas refused to share the list of hostages it planned to hand over on the first day, negotiators said.
A spokesman for Qatar's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the lists of hostages and prisoners to be swapped would be exchanged daily.
The last twist left families of the hostages reeling, with some saying they won't believe the deal is real until their loved ones are back on Israeli soil. The first hostages are set to be released at 4 p.m. Friday local time.
“I really hope it happens and nobody backs out," said Mika Dan, 14, whose uncle, Ofer Kalderon, 53, was kidnapped on Oct. 7 from a kibbutz near Gaza with his two children. “I just really want them back."
Anat Peled contributed to this article.
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Source: Live Mint
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