The reasons for a Gaza ceasefire are mounting by the day

The suffering of Palestinian civilians, the uncertain fate of Israeli hostages and growing tension in the West Bank should focus minds on finding a new way forward

A woman mourns as Palestinians collect the bodies of those killed in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, Gaza. Many countries, NGOs and charities remain undaunted by the scale of the challenge in the Palestinian enclave but the longer the violence continues, the more lives will be lost. Getty
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Amid the latest troubling developments in Gaza, reports that the 193-member UN General Assembly is likely to vote today on calls for an immediate ceasefire, coupled with yesterday’s visit by representatives of the UN Security Council to the Rafah border crossing, show that many in the international community are still working diligently to not only end the war but also to help Gaza’s suffering civilians.

Lana Nusseibeh, UAE Permanent Representative to the UN, was the driving force behind organising the Rafah trip. Speaking to The National, she made it clear that “the aid reaching Gazans is insufficient, due to the current inspections and verification processes and because no other crossings and entry points have been opened to scale up aid delivery”.

It is commendable that many countries, NGOs and charities remain undaunted by the scale of the challenge in Gaza. It is also clear that the longer this conflict continues, the harder it will be to help the enclave’s civilians.

Since its brutal October 7 attacks, Hamas successfully – and recklessly – lured the Israeli military into a trap in which Gazan civilians were to bear the brunt of the fighting. That cavalier attitude from those claiming to resist Israeli oppression on behalf of Gaza’s people was evident on Sunday when a spokesman for Hamas’s Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades said Israel’s military “will not be able to release any of their hostages alive without an exchange, negotiations and the acceptance of all of our terms”.

This maximalist and intransigent demand contained an implicit threat to the remaining Israeli hostages and is unlikely to deter Israeli forces from pursuing a punitive campaign that is inflicting so much death and misery on Gazan non-combatants. Indeed, the questionable nature of the Israeli operation is evident in the photographs that emerged from Gaza in recent days of many semi-naked Palestinian men, bound and lined up in rows.

For a military that claims to be a modern, disciplined army, these images of blindfolded men and teenagers being driven away in trucks to an unknown location are worrying, and there have also been allegations of mistreatment. One detainee, Moussa Ali, 14, from the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza city, says he was beaten, kept blindfolded, and given little to eat or drink for five days after being held along with several male relatives by Israeli troops last week. Israel’s army told The National that those detained “are treated in accordance with international law”.

Meanwhile, the need for a swift resolution grows stronger with each passing day. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank could send the situation in the area “out of control”. This is nothing to say of the tinderbox situation in Jerusalem.

Ahead of the anticipated General Assembly vote on a ceasefire today, it is unclear how much more diplomatic credit with the US Israel can expend as it continues its campaign in Gaza: there is still little hard evidence of the extensive Hamas networks hidden underneath civilian facilities that were often given as a reason for Israel’s ground operation. It is also far from clear how close Israel is to achieving its stated aims of destroying Hamas. Almost a month ago, Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had "lost control" of Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday claimed “dozens of Hamas terrorists have surrendered to our forces". However, the army has not released proof of militants surrendering, Hamas has rejected such claims and the fighting continues to rage – yesterday the Israeli military said more than 100 of its soldiers had lost their lives since the beginning of the ground offensive.

The reasons for an immediate ceasefire are mounting by the day and the arguments against one are looking increasingly threadbare. Every day is precious in terms of saving human lives, making a reported Israeli claim that the war will go on for at least another two months particularly alarming. About 18,000 people have died in the past two months – how many more will lose their lives by February if the violence continues? Ultimately, leaving Gaza in rubble will do little to ensure Israel’s security, now or in the future. Similarly, Hamas threatening Israeli hostages does nothing to end the military onslaught in Gaza.

The time has long passed for all sides to reverse out of this dead end. On the plus side, there is still considerable international engagement with this issue, as shown by yesterday’s diplomatic visit to Rafah that also involved senior UN personnel, the head of UNRWA and several doctors. There is help available to end the war in Gaza. The time to accept it is now.

Published: December 12, 2023, 3:00 AM