The Irish Times view on Gaza: the case for a ceasefire is compelling

After more than 100 Palestinians were killed on Thursday as crowds milled around aid trucks, hopes of diplomatic progress are uncertain

President Joe Biden had suggested that a second Gaza ceasefire agreement could be reached by next week. Qatar, a key broker in the talks process, has been more cautious. And after more than 100 Palestinians were killed on Thursday as crowds milled around aid trucks and Israeli forces reportedly opened fire, hopes of an early ceasefire have dimmed, even if the case for one is ever more obvious.

With claim and counterclaim about exactly what happened, the case for an independent inquiry, as called for by the UN and a number of countries yesterday, into this deeply shocking event could not be clearer. What happened is disputed, with Israel saying it was due to a stampede leading to crushing and Palestinians saying Israeli forces opened fire on the crowd.

But the reaction of German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock was telling, when she wrote on X that: “People wanted relief supplies for themselves and their families and ended up dead.”

Hamas has not yet said how this will affect ceasefire talks. It had been sticking to its preconditions that Israel agree to a long-term ceasefire and withdraws its troops.

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Negotiators from the US, Israel, Egypt and Qatar reportedly had reached what US sources say is an understanding on “the basic contours” of a deal in Paris. While expectations of an early breakthrough are now in doubt, some participants continue to express confidence.

Leaks suggested the deal would follow the shape of the November hostage-for-prisoner exchange, when over 100 Israeli and foreign hostages were swapped for hundreds of Palestinians from Israeli prisons. The phased exchanges – women and children first – would coincide with a ceasefire that would run through the holy month of Ramadan, beginning on March 10th. Humanitarian assistance to Gaza would be increased.

There had been other hopeful straws in the wind – the resignation and reforming of the Palestinian Authority government hinted at the falling into place of a key ingredients of a postwar US scenario for the administration of Gaza, while Israel’s new readiness to the possibility of swapping some convicted killers for hostages seemed to open up new possibilities.

But even before Thursday’s events there remained real obstacles on the ground to any deal, most particularly the obstruction of aid supplies. Hamas has demanded a surge in humanitarian aid, at least 400 trucks a day, as a condition for any hostage swap.

Israel, meanwhile, is continuing to prepare a new offensive in Rafah, while in the longer term it insists it will not even contemplate a two-state solution.

Hopes for a ceasefire must not be allowed to wither because of the latest events. If anything, it underlines yet again why one must be agreed.