Israel announces the death of four hostages as pressure mounts on government to accept truce deal

In the north of the country, tension is growing after the latest attacks by Hezbollah, which have caused several fires in places like Kiryat Shemona and Katzrin 
Israelíes se manifiestan para pedir la liberación de los rehenes - AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP
Israelis demonstrate to demand the release of hostages - AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP
  1. Biden calls on Qatar to press Hamas to accept deal 
  2. The Hamas leader in Gaza is in no hurry to end the war
  3. Hezbollah intensifies attacks on northern Israel, setting numerous fires 

Israel Defence Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced the deaths of hostages Chaim Peri, Amiram Cooper, Yoram Metzger and Nadav Popplewell, who were kidnapped by Hamas during the 7 October terrorist attack. 

The deceased, some of them founders of their respective kibbutzim and peace activists, were abducted with their wives - in the case of Nadav Popplewell, with his mother - although they were released during the November truce. They have also all appeared alive in Hamas propaganda videos in recent months.  

Following the IDF spokesman's press conference, the Hostages' Families Forum issued a statement expressing its “anguish” at the news. ‘It should shock every citizen of the State of Israel and provoke a profound examination of conscience in every leader,’ the association said. 

Likewise, the families of the abductees have again demanded that the Israeli government accept the truce agreement recently presented by the United States. ‘It is time to end this cycle of sacrifice and abandonment. Their murder in captivity is a disgrace and a sad reflection of the importance of delaying previous agreements,’ the statement said.  

US President Joe Biden on Friday publicly announced a proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza that would also include the gradual release of hostages. This plan has caused rifts within the Israeli government, with far-right members threatening to overthrow the coalition if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts it. 

Since then, protests in Israel have intensified to pressure the government to accept the proposal, which would allow the release and return home of the more than 100 hostages held hostage, as well as the possibility of a dignified burial for the dead whose bodies are still in Gaza.  

Washington's three-phase plan would end the conflict in Gaza, free all hostages and allow for the reconstruction of the devastated Palestinian enclave without Hamas in power. 

Biden calls on Qatar to press Hamas to accept deal 

In the words of US President Joe Biden, Israel is prepared to move forward with the proposal, as he conveyed to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whom he asked to press Hamas to accept the plan as well. 

According to the White House, Biden ‘confirmed Israel's willingness to move forward with the terms now offered to Hamas’ and ‘urged [the emir] to use all appropriate measures to secure Hamas's acceptance of the agreement’.  

Washington is again pressing Doha, which is home to many Hamas leaders, to take a tougher stance against the terrorist group in order to secure the release of the hostages. Last April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken privately called on Qatari Prime Minister Mohamed Al-Thani to expel Hamas leaders if they continued to reject the agreements.   

For their part, other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have endorsed the US proposal, saying it is important to approach it in a ‘serious and positive’ way.  

The Foreign Ministers of these countries and Qatar met virtually to discuss the proposal and mediation efforts by Washington, Doha and Cairo for an agreement to exchange Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners to allow a permanent ceasefire and more humanitarian aid into Gaza.  

The ministers stressed the need to halt the Israeli military operation in Gaza, end the humanitarian crisis and allow displaced persons to return home. They also stressed the implementation of the two-state solution, which includes an independent and sovereign Palestinian state similar to that of 4 June 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital. 

The Hamas leader in Gaza is in no hurry to end the war

For the plan to go ahead, however, it needs the approval of Hamas leaders, who are already awaiting a detailed proposal for the deal, Arab mediators told The Wall Street Journal.   

The US newspaper says the terrorist group wants a deal that does not allow Israel to resume war after the hostages are released, something Jerusalem has repeatedly rejected. 

Likewise, Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, told Arab mediators that he is ‘in no hurry to end the war’, believing that the conflict is isolating Israel internationally and advancing the Palestinian cause.

By contrast, Hamas's political leaders in exile want an end to the war ‘provided that an agreement guarantees the group's survival and grants it a continued role in Gaza's government’.  

Hezbollah intensifies attacks on northern Israel, setting numerous fires 

In recent days, the Islamic Republic of Iran-backed Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah has stepped up its attacks on northern Israel, setting fires in places such as Kiryat Shemona, a border town that has been largely uninhabited due to Hezbollah's constant attacks since October.

As a result of these actions, thousands of people in northern Israel have been forced to leave their homes, to which they have been unable to return for the past 8 months. 

The few remaining residents and local authorities have demanded that the government take strong measures to restore security in the area while far-right ministers are calling for a direct war with Lebanon, something Jerusalem has tried to avoid in recent months due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the recent spate of rocket and drone attacks in recent days caused forest fires that consumed more than 2,470 hectares in open areas, including nature reserves, reports The Times of Israel