Cease-Fire Momentum Grows in Israel-Hamas Conflict, Yet Elusive Agreement Casts Uncertainty

Efforts to broker a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas are intensifying, with both Egyptian and U.S. officials actively involved in seeking ways to halt the conflict that has persisted for over 110 days. Israel has proposed a pause in fighting, and the White House dispatched a senior envoy for consultations with Egypt and Qatar. Any potential agreement would necessitate a cessation of hostilities, an exchange of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, and substantial humanitarian aid for the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.

Despite these efforts, reaching a mutually acceptable formula remains challenging, as significant gaps persist between Israel and Hamas. The chances of a swift agreement appear slim, with an Israeli official acknowledging ongoing contacts but indicating that results have yet to materialize. The road ahead is described as long and complex.

The conflict began when Hamas launched a surprise cross-border attack on October 7, prompting Israel to declare war. The ensuing Israeli air and ground offensive has resulted in significant casualties and displacement, with local health officials and international aid agencies reporting over 25,000 Palestinians dead and approximately 85% of Gaza's population displaced.

Although a one-week cease-fire was agreed upon in late November, with some hostages released and prisoners exchanged, the deal faltered, leading to a resumption of hostilities. Israel insists on the return of all hostages and remains, estimating that around 110 hostages are still held by Hamas. Despite offering a temporary pause, Israel remains committed to its broader objectives, aiming to dismantle Hamas' military and governing capabilities.

Hamas is seeking the release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including those convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis and hundreds of Hamas militants involved in the Oct. 7 massacre. They demand the cessation of Israel's offensive and a permanent withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza. Despite various proposals, disagreements persist over the duration of a potential cease-fire, the pace of hostage releases, and the scope of any prisoner release.

An Israeli official noted that Israel proposed a two-month cease-fire, linking hostage releases with the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, and allowing top Hamas leaders in Gaza to relocate to other countries. However, Hamas rejected this proposal, insisting on no more hostage releases until Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from Gaza. Egypt and Qatar, with a history of brokering agreements, are working on a multistage proposal to bridge the gaps. The White House's involvement includes talks on a "humanitarian pause" with a focus on a hostage deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed determination to continue the offensive until achieving "final victory" and expects the war to extend into 2024. While a sustained pause may complicate a resumption of fighting, it could also lay the groundwork for further understandings between the conflicting parties. The Israeli public has predominantly supported the war effort, but the slow pace of the offensive and increasing Israeli soldier casualties pose challenges to sustaining this support.

Despite Israel claiming to have eliminated over 9,000 Hamas militants, the group continues to fiercely resist Israeli forces. On Tuesday, Israel reported the death of 21 soldiers in a central Gaza explosion, marking the deadliest single attack since ground troops were deployed in October. Nahum Barnea, a veteran columnist for Yediot Ahronot, noted that while the public still supports what is perceived as a just war, the increasing costs and casualties are prompting people to weigh the benefits of the ongoing campaign. The impact of these considerations on public sentiment is anticipated to grow in significance. For more coverage on the Israel-Hamas war, visit AP's dedicated hub.

In conclusion, the Israel-Hamas conflict persists despite Israel's claims of eliminating thousands of Hamas militants. The recent deadliest single attack, resulting in the loss of 21 Israeli soldiers, underscores the ongoing intensity of the conflict. Nahum Barnea, a prominent columnist, suggests that while the Israeli public still supports what is perceived as a just war, the increasing costs and casualties are prompting a reassessment of the campaign's benefits. The impact of these considerations on public sentiment is expected to grow in significance. As the conflict unfolds, the evolving dynamics and the toll on both sides raise critical questions about the sustainability and consequences of the ongoing military operations. For comprehensive coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, refer to AP's dedicated hub.