Isaac Herzog says Israel open to humanitarian pause in Gaza war

Israel's President says his country is willing to stop fighting and increase aid into the besieged Palestinian territory if Hamas frees more Israeli hostages

Israel faces growing criticism over civilian deaths in the Gaza war. AFP
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President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday said Israel was ready to pause fighting in Gaza to release hostages, in an apparent sign that he is at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that an aggressive military response is the best way to free the captives.

Mr Herzog told a gathering of ambassadors “Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages”.

The best way to release the roughly 130 hostages still in Gaza is becoming an increasingly bitter political question in Israel, despite widespread domestic support for the country’s war with Hamas.

Families of the captives have launched a formidable campaign demanding their return. The movement has repeatedly accused the Israeli government of prioritising its military goal of destroying Hamas over the safety of hostages.

The government insists both goals go hand in hand and that the military campaign is the best way to free the captives.

The strategy was called into question last week after the Israeli military said it accidentally killed three Israeli hostages in Gaza, who had gone to great lengths to identify themselves as non-combatants.

Mr Herzog’s comments about Israel’s readiness to pause fighting came as a senior Hamas official rejected the prospect of negotiations to release hostages “under the continuing Israeli genocidal war”.

Israeli President says country is ready for new humanitarian pause in Gaza

Israeli President says country is ready for new humanitarian pause in Gaza

On October 7, Hamas launched a bloody assault on southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking roughly 240 hostages.

Israel launched retaliatory strikes and a ground offensive into Gaza that has now killed almost 20,000 Palestinians. Most of the victims on both sides were civilians.

Israel and Hamas upheld a one-week truce from November 24 and 30. Over seven days, Hamas released 105 hostages from Gaza, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai citizens and one Filipino citizen. In return, Israel released 240 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

All of the Israeli hostages released from Gaza were women and children, and civilians.

Since the truce lapsed and fighting renewed in early December, families of the remaining hostages have mounted intensified criticism of Mr Netanyahu's government.

The Prime Minister is also facing increasing pressure from international allies. This includes US President Joe Biden’s administration, which is concerned that Israel’s military strategy is enacting too heavy a toll on Gazan civilians.

Mr Biden last week said Israel was losing support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza.

The UN agency in charge of supporting Palestinian refugees on Tuesday said Gaza was approaching an irreversible humanitarian situation, with mounting hunger, poverty and spread of disease.

Updated: December 19, 2023, 9:34 PM