World

MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 21 DECEMBER 2023

Israel makes new offer for one-week pause in warfare; Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders travel to Cairo

Israel makes new offer for one-week pause in warfare; Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders travel to Cairo
Palestinians mourn relatives killed during Israeli bombardment outside the morgue at the Nasser Medical hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, 20 December 2023. (Photo: Ahmad Salem / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Israel has made a new offer for a one-week pause in fighting during which Hamas would free about 40 hostages, all women, men over the age of 60 and sick or seriously wounded people, Axios reported.

Hamas’ senior political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who’s based in Qatar, travelled on Wednesday to Cairo to hold discussions with Egyptian officials about developments in Gaza, the organisation said on Telegram in Arabic.

The Israeli news site Ynet said that an Islamic Jihad leader, Ziad al Nakhaleh, was also expected in Cairo.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels vowed to continue targeting ships in the Red Sea despite a US move to compile an international naval task force to protect maritime trade in one of the world’s most important waterways. 

Israel ‘ready to pause fighting in exchange for hostages’

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said his country was prepared to agree to a second humanitarian pause in fighting in exchange for the return of more hostages held by Hamas.

Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union, still holds about 129 of the initial 240 or more people it abducted from Israel during its deadly attack on 7 October. 

Israel’s offer calls for a one-week pause in fighting during which Hamas would free about 40 hostages, all women, men over the age of 60 and sick or seriously wounded people, Axios reported, citing three people it didn’t identify. In exchange, Israel would consider freeing Palestinian prisoners accused of more serious attacks against Israel than those released during a week-long ceasefire that ended in early December, Axios said.

The Israeli proposal was made through Qatari mediators by David Barnea, the head of the country’s Mossad spy agency.

Barnea met Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and William Burns, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, in Warsaw on Monday to discuss the proposals for the hostages and pause in fighting, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. It was the first meeting between the three since the last truce started in November.

Both the official and Israeli media say no deal is expected imminently.

Qatar has played a pivotal role since the war started, acting as the main go-between for Israel’s nego 

Hamas separately said it was “categorically rejecting” negotiations over prisoner exchanges while Israel’s attack on Gaza is ongoing. The group said, however, it was willing to engage with “any initiative that contributes to ending the aggression on our people and opening the crossings to bring in aid”.

Almost 19,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the enclave. There’s also been widespread destruction of homes and other infrastructure. Israel says 1,200 people were left dead after the initial incursion by Hamas fighters and has vowed to destroy the group to avoid a repeat attack.    

Yemen’s Houthis vow more attacks on ships in Red Sea

Yemen’s Houthi rebels vowed to continue targeting ships in the Red Sea despite a US move to compile an international naval task force to protect maritime trade in one of the world’s most important waterways. 

The Iran-backed group also warned Washington it was willing to retaliate if the US opted for military attacks on Houthi bases. 

“We’re seeking to develop our military capabilities to overcome any obstacles and reach our targets,” Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi said in a televised speech on Wednesday. If the US attacked Yemen, “we will target it” by firing missiles and drones at US battleships and other vessels, he added.

The Houthis have looked to disrupt the Red Sea voyages of several fuel tankers and cargo ships, ostensibly in support of Hamas in its war against Israel. They have stepped up assaults in the past week, roiling shipping markets and helping push up oil prices. Over the weekend, the US and UK navies shot down 15 drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. 

Read more: What Houthi Red Sea attacks mean for global trade 

The US was considering military action against the Houthis, though it still preferred a diplomatic solution, Bloomberg has reported. Washington announced on Monday it was working with Western and Arab allies to bolster a maritime protection force that’s meant to secure ships navigating the Red Sea, which carries nearly 12% of global trade.

More than 100 container ships were now taking the long route around Africa to avoid violence, creating extra costs and delays, according to Swiss logistics giant Kuehne+Nagel International. 

The US blames Iran for enabling the Houthis to attack ships, which the Islamic Republic denies. The Houthis have received funding and training from Tehran over the past eight years. They are part of the country’s “axis of resistance” to the US and Israel along with Hamas, Lebanon-based Hezbollah and other groups. 

Cyprus, Israel working on start of Gaza maritime aid corridor

Cyprus and Israel were working on the final details of an initiative to establish a maritime aid corridor to Gaza from Cyprus, the foreign ministers of the two countries said.

“As the humanitarian needs escalate so does the urgency of the need to act,” Cyprus Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said in the port city of Larnaca after meeting his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen, according to an audio tape of his comments sent by the Cyprus government press office. 

The Cyprus plan provides for setting up a logistical hub for the safe provision of sustained, high volumes of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza through a dedicated one-way maritime corridor, Kombos said. 

Cyprus, Israel and other partners in the region were promoting the initiative to facilitate the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza “in an organized and well-inspected manner,” Cohen said. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Du Plessis says:

    Hamas must give back the hostages and surrender to face trial for crimes against humanity. The war and the suffering of fakestinian civilians can the stop instantly

    • John P says:

      Nonsense Steve, if Hamas must face trial for their crimes then Israel must as well

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        Steve there are no fakestinian civillians or fakesrael civillians there are human civillians being being collectively punished for governments they voted into power, if we wanted to play with or about innocent human lives we will be sitting in a shebeen and posting on DM

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