Alleged breaches of Hamas-Israel truce underline fragility of deal

Hurriedly convened meeting in Ramallah between representatives of Israel, Egypt, US and Qatar rescues truce from unravelling

Hamas fighters accompanying newly released Israeli hostage Maya Regev to a Red Cross vehicle in the Gaza Strip early on Sunday. AFP
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A hurriedly convened meeting of representatives from Israel, the US, Egypt and Qatar has rescued the Gaza truce from unravelling, one of several fraught moments amid talks to sustain the pause in fighting.

It comes after Hamas complained about alleged violations by Israel, including an unauthorised drone flight and an attempt to spy on its positions, officials said.

Egyptian authorities said the meeting in Ramallah on Saturday had brought together senior intelligence operatives from the countries involved, in addition to diplomats. The Palestinian Authority was not represented although Ramallah is its seat of power, they added.

The temporary truce appeared to be back on track on Sunday after the release of a second group of Hamas-held hostages and that of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. The swap followed an hours-long delay that underscored the fragility of the truce.

Israel on Sunday announced the list of Palestinians scheduled for release on the third of the truce's four days that began on Friday.

The truce was the first significant pause in seven weeks of war in which a deadly rampage by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7 left 1,200 Israelis killed and triggered a devastating bombing campaign by Israel followed by a ground offensive that has killed more than 14,500 Palestinians.

The fighting has also displaced two thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million residents – about 1.7 million people – and created a massive humanitarian crisis in the densely populated enclave, wiping out large swathes of built-up areas.

Under the truce brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the US, Hamas is to release in batches at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli jails.

Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed but has vowed to resume its offensive once it ends. The Egyptian officials, for their part, said efforts were under way to persuade Hamas and Israel to extend the truce by at least two days.

The officials, who are briefed in depth about the negotiations, said Saturday's delay was caused in part by Hamas's insistence that some of the aid reaching the enclave from Egypt under the deal should be sent to northern Gaza, from which Israel forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to leave and move south.

Israel eventually dropped its objection and allowed the aid to reach the north, an area Israel says is home to a large segment of Hamas's military capabilities and personnel.

Another issue that caused the delay, according to the officials, was Hamas's claim that Israel was trying to take advantage of the release of hostages to gather intelligence on the group's hideouts, including a network of tunnels it uses to attack its forces.

The officials, who spoke to The National on condition of anonymity, declined to give details of Hamas's allegation.

Another obstacle was a claim by Hamas that Israel had breached the terms of the temporary truce when it sent a drone flying over the southern part of Gaza on Saturday.

Hamas was also unhappy about a surge in violence in the occupied West Bank, where about 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or illegal settlers since October 7, according to UN figures.

“Such issues, though serious, will not derail the agreement,” said one of the officials. “The deal remains on track and will stay the course.”

Hamas officials also complained to Egypt about Israel's treatment of the Palestinian women and children who have been released as part of the deal, claiming they were denied food and medication on their final day in prison, which they spent in isolation.

Israel was also forcing prisoners to sign written statements disavowing Hamas and other armed groups and accepting they would face imprisonment if found to support them after their release, said the Egyptian officials.

Updated: November 26, 2023, 1:12 PM