Smoke rises over Gaza City as displaced Palestinians take shelter at al-Shifa Hospital on November 8, 2023 [File: Reuters/Doaa Rouqa]

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In the early hours of November 22, Qatar formally announced that an agreement had been reached for an Israeli-Palestinian exchange of captives. The available details suggest it largely reflects the proposal offered by Hamas several weeks ago that was initially rejected by Israel.

Тhe announcement was made just a week after Israeli tanks and soldiers stormed into the al-Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City, causing international outrage. Israel had claimed that there was a Hamas command centre there and repeatedly vowed to destroy it. As it happened, the only facility to be found within the compound was a hospital.

The United States fully supported Israel's violation of al-Shifa's sanctity and even claimed it had independent intelligence about a Palestinian Pentagon beneath it but produced no evidence in support of this assertion.

At the time, this led to speculation that these events may have been the product of an informal US-Israeli agreement: The Biden administration would support Israel's seizure of al-Shifa and would cover for this war crime politically and diplomatically with lies of its own, thus allowing an Israeli military with few achievements since October 7 to have its "Iwo Jima moment" atop "Mount Shifa".

But once it would become clear that there was nothing of military significance within the premises, the US would proceed to finalise a deal with Hamas and Israel would have to agree to its implementation.

It does indeed appear to be the case that in exchange for US support for Israel's systematic destruction of the health sector in the Gaza Strip, a deal with Hamas has been reached.

The agreement is significant in several respects. Perhaps most importantly, the US and Israel, which repeatedly vowed to eradicate Hamas, are now negotiating with the Palestinian movement and reaching agreements with it. Qatari-Egyptian mediation, while indispensable, is ultimately a formality. The US and Israel are not negotiating with Egypt and Qatar but with Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and architect of the October 7 attacks.

The tenor of Israeli press reports in recent days has been that Hamas is desperate for a respite, however brief and at almost any price, from the ferocious Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip.

Yet the available reports about the deal suggest otherwise: Israel has committed to releasing three times as many imprisoned women and children as the Palestinians; no Israeli soldiers are included in the exchange; significantly more humanitarian supplies, including fuel, will reach the Gaza Strip; the exchange of captives will be implemented during a continuous four-day truce rather than one in which the slaughter is paused for a brief period each day; and Israeli jets and drones will be prohibited from using the airspace over the Gaza Strip for several hours each day....

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