FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

All wars end in some sort of negotiation, even when one side surrenders unconditionally. There has to be agreement on the disposition of forces after cessation of hostilities and all the many details of disengagement.

Last Wednesday, a breakthrough was reached regarding the release of hostages held by Hamas. The deal was negotiated principally by Qatar, although in close consultation with Israel, Egypt and the US. This raises hopes a more comprehensive deal may eventually be negotiated to end the hostilities.

The deal negotiated by Qatar involves the initial release of 50 hostages, principally the women and children taken by Hamas fighters from Israeli settlements close to the Gaza border. In exchange, Israel commits to release 150 Palestinian prisoners, with priority given to women detainees.

To allow for the exchange, the deal involves a 4-day “humanitarian pause.” That means basically that Israel pauses its offensive. It is hard to imagine what the Hamas will do with a “humanitarian pause.” It is a cynical organization that is not configured to perform anything “humanitarian” for its people.

The deal keeps the door open for subsequent releases in exchange for more concessions. The world hopes for that.

There is resistance to the deal on both sides, to be sure. The Israeli Cabinet debated the deal into the wee hours Wednesday, with hardliners arguing that the country should not be negotiating with terrorists. For these hardliners, Hamas is simply not to be trusted with anything.

Surely there must have been some resistance among the leaders of Hamas – the toughest of them living in luxury villas abroad and flying their private jets. They are beyond the reach of Israeli air strikes and they care little if their countrymen are dying. To date, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry claims 14,000 people died in the Israeli offensive. About 5,000 of the casualties are children.

The deal does not result is immediate prisoner exchange, however. There are operational and execution risks to contend with.

On the side of Hamas, there will be challenges collecting the hostages from wherever they are concealed, delivering them to the Red Cross that will in turn deliver them to Israel. To be sure, the relocation and movement of hostages will be closely observed by Israeli drones. As this is being written, the execution of the deal is delayed.

Hamas knows that after they deliver the hostages, Israel stands to gain valuable intelligence about the disposition of forces and the safehouses used by the terrorist group. At the moment, Israeli forces are combing through parts of northern Gaza now under their control. With each tunnel found, they are knowing more and more about the disposition of the enemy.

The deal also calls for all the hostages to be visited by the Red Cross and given medical care. This might be logistically complex for some factions of the terrorist movement.

Any exchange that happens will be easier operationally on the Israeli side. All they have to do is to take the people they hold from prisons and load them onto buses.

Six weeks after that gruesome Hamas attack on Israeli settlements, it is clear that the terrorists are on their back foot. They have none of the resources to push back the Israeli Defense Forces. Hamas should have absorbed heavy casualties. None of the other Palestinian communities on the West Bank and Lebanon have risen up to heed Hamas’ call for an insurrection. None of the other militias and definitely none of the other neighboring countries have marched to war as Hamas had hoped for.

The only group actively supporting Hamas are the Houthi rebels in Yemen. They have been firing their longest range, Iranian-supplied missiles in the direction of Israel. All the missiles have been intercepted by Israeli defenses and US warships in the Red Sea.

Exasperated by the inutility of their missile attacks, the Houthis have instead taken a commercial vessel sailing in the Red Sea. The crew of that ship, including 17 Filipino sailors, have now been taken hostage.

During the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, four Filipino migrant workers were killed by the terrorists. Now 17 Filipino sailors are held captive by another terrorist group allied with Hamas.

The Red Sea, leading up to the strategic Suez Canal, is one of the busiest sea routes in the world. By attacking and capturing a commercial vessel, the Houthis are making themselves a menace to the economic interests of all countries.

The earlier a comprehensive deal is negotiated, the less anxious the world will be.

Time is running out for both Israel and the Hamas. The high civilian casualty toll in Gaza has brought intense diplomatic pressure on Israel. As the comprehensive assault on congested Gaza continues, the civilian toll will rise – and so will diplomatic pressure on Tel Aviv.

For Hamas, the longer the war continues, the greater the danger they will be wiped out. The Israelis are conducting this war intensively, searching for every tunnel that might hide Hamas fighters or hostages. About 1.7 million of Gaza’s total 2.2 million people have been displaced. The territory is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Hamas is staring down the barrel of Israeli tanks. The highly trained Israeli commando units will be unremitting. They will search every home in Gaza if that is what it takes to eradicate Hamas.

This war has to end somehow – although no one really knows exactly how.

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