Israel faces mounting pressure to extend a four-day pause in its war against Hamas, but military officials fear that a longer truce risks blunting its efforts to rout the militant movement.
After hours of delay and acrimony that underscored the fragility of the truce, a second tranche of 13 Israeli hostages was freed on Saturday by Hamas in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners — the same number as the previous day.
A total of 15 foreigners have also been released during the ceasefire — mediated for weeks by Qatar, the United States and Egypt — that marks the first breakthrough after seven weeks of relentless war.
Under the deal, 50 of the roughly 240 hostages held by the militants will be freed over four days in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, with a built-in extension mechanism to prolong the process as long as at least 10 Israeli captives are released each day.
That increases the number of hostages returned — and there is strong domestic pressure within Israel to do so — but gives Hamas a longer window in which to regroup, recover, re-arm and ultimately return to the fight, analysts say.
It also increases diplomatic pressure on Israel from the international community, which will become steadily less willing to countenance a return to the pounding of Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis.
“Time works against Israel as always and against the IDF,” said Andreas Krieg, of King’s College London, referring to the Israeli military.
“On one hand you want all the hostages out knowing that you can’t get them out militarily and on the other you don’t want to lose completely the momentum of this war,” he told AFP.
And the longer a truce lasted, he said, the more the international community would lose patience with a continuation of the war, he added.
But the Israeli military is determined to pursue its objective of “crushing” Hamas.
Visiting Israeli troops in the war-battered Gaza Strip on Saturday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant insisted the timeline for the truce was “short”.
“It won’t take weeks, it will take days, more or less,” he said, flanked by heavily armed soldiers. “Any further negotiations will take place under fire.”