'War will return': Gazans welcome pause in fighting, but say it is not enough

Red Cross is ready to support the implementation of a prisoner-exchange deal

Palestinian women at the site of an Israeli strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
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Gazans welcomed the four-day pause in fighting agreed by Israel and Hamas but said, "it is not enough", with some fearful that Israel will break the truce to continue its war in Gaza.

The temporary truce is expected to allow the release of 50 hostages held in Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and the entry of humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave. It will begin on Thursday at 10am local time, according to Hamas.

"This may be the best possible scenario for now, but it is not enough. War will return and death will return," Mohammed Jamal, 60, a resident of Gaza city, told The National.

"The war will rage, there is no escape from that, and we will be the ones who will pay the price," Mr Jamal said.

Suha Ali, 32, also from Gaza city, told The National that residents of the enclave were hoping for a long-term ceasefire that would enable people to return to normality.

"It's been a long time we've been at war, we are exhausted, we want to go back to our homes, what has happened to us is unimaginable," she said.

"We are hoping that the truce will lead to a proper ceasefire but for now it is good news that we are able to go back to our homes and get our personal belongings," Ms Ali said.

Reema Mahmood believes that the four-day pause does not reflect political agreement, and said residents are worried about Israel breaking the agreement.

"We are worried that Israel will break the truce. We have been in this scenario before and at any moment, the occupation would turn back its decision," she said.

"I have been displaced since the first day of the war, I miss my house, my family, I will go back at the first point," Ms Mahmood said.

Hamza Shaalan, who is a displaced Gazan and currently has nowhere to go, said the truce will not be enough to meet the needs of Gazans.

"The truce is for us to take a moment to breathe, it's not a 100 per cent humanitarian [deal], we need more," he said.

Once the pause is implemented, Mr Shaalan will search for his family in the north and find a tent to sleep in.

Red Cross ready to implement exchange

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday it is ready to support the implementation of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

"We, at the ICRC, are ready to support the implementation of any agreement that brings much-needed relief to the victims of this conflict,” Jessica Moussan, ICRC’s spokeswoman in the Middle East, told The National.

It comes as Israel's air strikes continued on the Gaza Strip before the truce is implemented.

Hamas claimed that under the conditions of the truce, Israel will halt all air activity over southern Gaza during the entire four days. In the north, it will pause air activity between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Israel did not include details of its air activity in its announcement of the truce.

During these hours, Palestinians will be able to move freely on Gaza's Salah Al Din road, which has been used for evacuations from the north.

“Currently, we are actively engaged in talks with the parties to help carry out any humanitarian agreement they reach,” Ms Moussan said.

The agreement is the most significant diplomatic breakthrough since Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7 killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostage.

The attack ignited a war that has turned vast areas of Gaza into rubble, killing more than 14,000 people and raising fears of a wider conflict across the region.

The ICRC regularly facilitates prisoner exchanges as a neutral intermediary in conflicts around the world.

“As a neutral intermediary, it is important to clarify that we are not part of the negotiations, and we do not make decisions on the substance of it,” she said. “Our role is to facilitate the implementation, once the parties agree.”

Qatar, which has played a vital role in the negotiations between the two sides, said early on Wednesday the timing of the pause will be announced within the next 24 hours.

“The number of those released will be increased in later stages of implementing the agreement," Doha's Foreign Ministry said.

The development comes as the Palestinian news agency, Wafa, reported on Wednesday that the Indonesian Hospital has received evacuation warnings from the Israeli army, which accuses it of hosting "militant activity".

A hospital administrator said that a message was sent from an official in the Israeli army claiming Israel has "information about [military activity] inside the hospital, and the army is requesting an immediate halt to all military actions”.

The Israeli message contained the following warning: "If military activity does not stop within four hours, then the army reserves the right to engage in activity against military operations in accordance with international laws.”

The Indonesian Hospital is in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 2:42 PM