Israel and Hamas have agreed to a deal under which dozens of Israeli hostages will be freed in exchange for a brief pause in fighting and the release of 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israel’s prisons.
The pause, set to take effect within the next 24 hours, is expected to last at least four days to allow for the release of 50 hostages held by Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the pause will be extended by a day for every additional 10 hostages released.
Hamas is believed to have around 240 hostages. According to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked, thousands of Palestinians are currently detained in Israel without charge or trial.
If it holds, the Qatar-mediated hostage deal will mark a temporary reprieve in what has been a catastrophic six-week war. Israel’s response to the October 7 Hamas-led attack — which killed roughly 1,200 people — has decimated large swaths of the Gaza Strip, wrecking schools, homes, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure and killing more than 14,000 people, drawing accusations of genocide.
Israel’s siege of the Palestinian enclave has left virtually the entire population on the brink of starvation and forced many of the territory’s overwhelmed hospitals to shut down due to a lack of fuel and other critical supplies, depriving many patients — including premature babies — of necessary treatment.
Progressive U.S. lawmakers who have been calling for a cease-fire for weeks welcomed the newly announced hostage deal but said it’s not sufficient, particularly if the Israeli government resumes its devastating bombing campaign once the four-day pause is over — as Netanyahu has said he intends to do.
“A temporary pause in the violence is not enough,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in a statement. “We must move with urgency to save as many lives as possible and achieve a permanent cease-fire agreement. Over 14,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since this violence began, including thousands of children, and 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes.”
“Further displacement of Palestinians and forced annexation of their land will only perpetuate this conflict,” Tlaib added. “Expanding the illegal occupation will never lead to a just and lasting peace. We must address the root causes of this conflict.”
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), the lead sponsor of a cease-fire resolution in the U.S. House, said the pause announcement “further proves the effectiveness of de-escalation and diplomacy — not military force — as a means of saving lives and affirms why we must keep up our push for a permanent cease-fire.”
“When this agreement expires, the bombing will continue, thousands more will die, and millions of people will continue to be displaced,” said Bush. “We must continue to vigorously push for a permanent cease-fire that ends this violence, protects and saves lives, and ensures the safe return of all hostages, including those who are being arbitrarily detained.”
The advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace echoed Bush and Tlaib, saying that “the Israeli government’s collective punishment and unfolding genocide of Palestinians in Gaza cannot just be put on ‘pause’; it must be stopped.”
“Once we have reached a permanent cease-fire, we cannot return to the status quo,” the group continued. “We must address the root causes of injustice. A future of peace and safety for everyone, grounded in justice, freedom and equality for all, is still the only option. There is no military solution. We need a political solution — and we cannot get there until we have a full and lasting cease-fire.”
Congressional support for a cease-fire has grown steadily in recent weeks as survey results indicate overwhelming support from the U.S. public. Forty-three members of Congress are now calling for a cease-fire, according to a tally by The Intercept’s Prem Thakker.
The Biden administration, though, has repeatedly dismissed the prospects of a lasting cease-fire, claiming it would only benefit Hamas. Citing an unnamed senior official, Politico reported Tuesday that “there was no sense” inside the administration “that the pause would turn into a lengthier cease-fire.”
“And there was some concern in the administration about an unintended consequence of the pause: that it would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and the opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there and turn public opinion on Israel,” the outlet added.
As news of the Israel-Hamas deal emerged late Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that “residents in Gaza City said the fighting there had intensified overnight into Wednesday, with gunfire, heavy artillery, and airstrikes in central neighborhoods.”
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said in response to the Israel-Hamas deal that “cease-fire or not, unlawful attacks should cease.”
Shakir also called for the immediate release of all hostages and an end to the Israeli siege that “has put the lives of 2.2 million people at risk.”
“Human beings are not bargaining chips,” he said.