MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 28 NOVEMBER 2023
Israel, Hamas agree to extend truce for two days; Musk ‘would like to help rebuild Gaza’
Israel and Hamas on Monday agreed to pause their devastating war for another two days following negotiations over the release of more hostages held in Gaza.
The UN said many people in Gaza still had no food or cooking fuel and bakeries weren’t operating, raising concerns about nutrition, especially in northern Gaza, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive.
Billionaire Elon Musk said that he’d like to help rebuild Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war in a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his social media platform X.
The war continues to reverberate in the Middle East. On Sunday, a chemical tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire was saved by a US warship after armed men boarded the vessel in the Gulf of Aden. The men were forced to disembark and were then caught by the navy.
- Tanker linked to Israeli tycoon freed by US warship off Yemen
- Biden backs war pause extension after Hamas frees hostages
- Bank of Israel’s path to rate cuts is growing shorter: Day Guide
Ceasefire extended after talks
Israel and Hamas agreed on Monday to extend a ceasefire in their devastating war until Thursday morning, following negotiations over the release of more hostages held in Gaza.
The current halt — which began Friday after intense negotiations brokered by Qatar, with the help of Egypt and the US — was originally due to end on Tuesday. It was the first since the conflict erupted in early October when Hamas attacked Israel, which retaliated by bombing Gaza and reducing much of it to rubble.
The two sides would pause fighting for an additional two days, Qatar’s foreign ministry said on X, while Hamas said that a deal was reached to “extend the temporary humanitarian ceasefire for an additional two days, under the same conditions as the previous ceasefire”. Although the White House confirmed the agreement, Israel’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately do so.
The extended ceasefire is expected to sustain the daily ratio of hostages and prisoners released by both sides, which has been aiming for one hostage from Gaza in exchange for three Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Israel has so far allowed more aid into Gaza and was set to release about 150 Palestinians from jail. Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, has so far freed more than 50 hostages, including foreigners.
The new deal was announced after Israel came under increasing pressure to agree to an extension. President Joe Biden had said he wanted to prolong the pause in the war, which has killed thousands of people and inflamed tensions in the Middle East and beyond.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing that the White House welcomed the announcement of the truce extension, adding that Biden spoke with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday about the situation.
“The humanitarian pause has already brought a halt to fighting together with a surge of humanitarian assistance,” Kirby said. “We would of course hope to see the pause extended further, and that will depend on Hamas continuing to release hostages.”
The war started when Hamas militants swarmed into southern Israeli communities from Gaza, killing about 1,200 people and abducting 240. More than 15,000 have died in Gaza amid air strikes and a later ground assault by Israel.
Musk tells Netanyahu he’d like to help rebuild Gaza
Billionaire Elon Musk said that he’d like to help rebuild Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war in a conversation with Netanyahu on his social media platform X.
It was important to first “deradicalise” the Palestinian territories, similar to how other Arab states have become more moderate in recent years, including Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu said in a live discussion broadcast on the site formerly known as Twitter on Monday.
Musk, who is under fire for amplifying anti-Semitic content on X, met with Israeli officials and toured the Kfar Aza kibbutz where some of the worst violence occurred on 7 October, when Hamas militants broke through the country’s border barriers and attacked civilians. Musk described seeing bullet shell casings in cribs on the tour.
After watching footage of the attack by Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, Musk called the apparent joy expressed by the killers “evil” and “jarring”. Israel has been showing footage of the attack by Hamas in screenings around the world.
Still, Netanyahu didn’t address the latest anti-Semitism row on X in the about 20-minute broadcast. Musk has defended himself from what he labelled “bogus media stories” after he endorsed an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory earlier this month on X. Major brands including Apple and Walt Disney have stopped advertising on his social media platform over concerns of increasing anti-Semitism and hate speech since he took over Twitter last year.
For all Musk’s stumbles, world leaders can’t afford to criticise or alienate him for long: The world’s richest person holds the keys to powerful technological tools. In this case, Starlink, his satellite internet provider, is at the heart of his political clout. Starlink, which is owned and operated by Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, has provided him with the ability to woo world leaders from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to officials at the Pentagon, by offering essential communications services.
“Musk is not just a player that should be regulated by the American government. He’s a global order player, who should probably have a seat at the UN Security Council,” said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. “Elon Musk can simply shirk his responsibilities and that’s because of his power.”
While Musk toured the Kfar Aza kibbutz, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi tweeted about a deal the ministry was discussing with Starlink. A representative for SpaceX didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Musk had proposed providing internet services to Gaza last month and said Starlink could help support connectivity with “internationally recognised aid organisations.” But Karhi rejected the offer at the time, saying “Hamas will use it for terrorist activities”.
Four-year-old girl’s release followed weeks of talks via Qatar
The release of a four-year-old American girl by Hamas followed weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts by the Biden administration to secure her safety through Qatari and Egyptian intermediaries.
A US official who detailed those efforts after the release of Abigail Idan to Israel said US attention would now turn to the remaining hostages.
Abigail was among 17 Hamas captives released on Sunday. US officials were unable to confirm the whereabouts of the 10 remaining US citizens or permanent residents that are unaccounted for — or even whether they’re still alive.
Abigail, also spelt Avigail in Hebrew, is the daughter of a news photographer who documented the early moments of the 7 October attack on Israel before being killed by militants.
The then three-year-old came to the attention of US officials early in the crisis. Through eyewitnesses, officials learnt that her mother had been murdered in front of her, and when her father tried to protect Abigail, he was killed, too. Abigail fled to a neighbour’s house, where she was kidnapped along with the neighbouring family and taken into northern Gaza.
Biden raised Abigail’s case in almost all his phone calls with leaders in the region, including the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the official said. The emir was instrumental in the October release of two Illinois residents — Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie — and that case provided the template for negotiations for Abigail’s release, the official said.
Qatar maintains contact with Hamas, which has an office in Doha and is considered a terrorist group by the US and the European Union.
Abigail’s name was included on a list of women and children who could be released by Hamas. But as late as Sunday morning in Washington, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was unwilling to confirm that she would be released in case the deal collapsed.
At the same time, US officials were tracking her transfer to the International Committee of the Red Cross and out of Gaza and into Israel throughout the morning. The convoy was diverted from its planned route through Rafah, a crossing on the border of Gaza and Egypt, to a direct route into Israel because another hostage — an 85-year-old Israeli woman — required urgent medical care and a helicopter evacuation. Biden spoke twice by phone with senior officials as the transfer unfolded, the official said.
Shortly before noon on Sunday, Biden emerged in Nantucket, the Massachusetts island where he spent the Thanksgiving holiday with his family, to announce Abigail’s release.
“One of our fellow Americans, a little girl named Abigail turned four years old — she spent her birthday, that birthday, and at least 50 days before that held hostage by Hamas,” Biden said. “She’s free and she’s in Israel now.”
“Thank God she’s home,” he said. “I just can’t imagine the enjoyment. I wish I were there to hold her.” DM
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War