Middle EastAnalysis

Many hours of tough negotiations lie ahead before start of 40-45 day Gaza truce can be declared

Agreement for a Ramadan truce will lead to delay in Israel’s planned military advance on Rafah

It appears that both Israeli leaders and Hamas officials were caught off guard by president Joe Biden’s comments that a Gaza truce may be achievable by the end of the week.

While progress has undoubtedly been achieved towards a deal in advance of the Ramadan holy month, which begins around March 10th, the devil is in the detail, and many hours of arduous negotiations lie ahead before the start of a 40-to 45-day truce can be declared.

Truce. Not ceasefire. Under discussion is an initial phase during which there will be an extended humanitarian pause in the fighting.

There are 134 hostages being held in Gaza, 101 of them believed to be alive. About 40-45 women, along with elderly, sick and wounded people are due to be set free during the first phase.


During the month and a half of truce, if the agreement is upheld by both sides, negotiations will continue to free the remaining hostages, men of military service age.

Hamas and the international mediators hope the extended truce will create the conditions that will lead to a deal to end to the war.

One thing is clear: an agreement for a Ramadan truce will lead to a delay in Israel’s planned military advance on Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than a million refugees fled to escape the fighting.

It was never Israel’s intention to attack Rafah without evacuating the civilian residents. Apart from the likely disastrous consequences of such a scenario, the presence of so many people in such a small area would make it impossible for the military to manoeuvre. Even assuming the residents co-operate and agree to another forced transfer, it’s estimated that such a mass movement of families would take two weeks to complete.

The war cabinet has still not approved the Rafah operation after the military only presented it with options, including the evacuation of civilians, a few days ago. So any attack on Rafah will have to wait until the second half of April, the end of the planned Ramadan truce, at the earliest.

For the Israeli leadership the attack on Rafah is essential to achieve its primary war goal of defeating Hamas militarily and enabling a post-war arrangement that removes the Hamas threat from southern Israel. (Killing or capturing the senior Hamas leaders would be an added bonus for the Israelis).

At the start of the war Hamas had 22 battalions in Gaza. With the expected conquest of Khan Younis only six will remain – four in Rafah and two in the central refugee camps. Military analysts in Israel argue that to stop the war after the conquest of Khan Younis would be akin to the Allies ending the second World War after the liberation of Paris.

The ideal scenario from Israel’s point of view is that the threat of total military defeat will prompt Hamas to agree to end the fighting, along with the exile of its leaders and remaining fighters, similar to the PLO’s departure from Beirut in 1982. So far there is no indication that Hamas would agree to such a deal and Israel remains adamant that it cannot leave Hamas as a military and political force in Gaza even if all the hostages are released.

Some tough diplomacy lies ahead to achieve an end to the war.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here