Israel, Hamas deal reached on hostages, fighting pause

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 22nd November 2023

The Israeli government and Hamas have separately announced they had agreed to a Qatar-mediated deal in which the militant group will free dozens of Israeli hostages in exchange for a four-day pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of dozens of Palestinians held in prisons in Israel.

In the first of the two-phase deal – the biggest diplomatic breakthrough and the first major pause in fighting since the war began – Hamas is expected to free at least 50 Israeli women and children held in Gaza, while Israel is expected to release about 150 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women and children, over the four-day pause. Israel will allow around 300 aid trucks a day to enter Gaza from Egypt. More fuel will also be allowed in during the pause in fighting, according to an Israeli official. In the second phase, Hamas could release dozens more women, children, and elderly people. The Israeli government said it would extend the pause for every additional 10 hostages released. Israel will not release Palestinian prisoners who have been convicted of killing Israelis. Israeli media said the first release of hostages was expected on Thursday. The government must wait for 24 hours before implementing the deal to give Israeli citizens the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the release of Palestinian prisoners, reports said.

Israeli Cabinet approves “difficult but right decision”

The Israeli Cabinet approved the deal in the early hours of today, Wednesday, after more than five hours of discussion. After the Cabinet approved the deal, the government stressed that it was committed to bringing all hostages home. “The Israeli government and the IDF will continue the war in order to bring all the hostages back, finish destroying Hamas, and make sure there can be no threat to Israel from Gaza,” the statement said. Netanyahu said the deal was improved so that it would include more hostages for a lower cost. “President Biden helped and I thank him for that,” he said. On his part, Biden issued a statement welcoming the agreement. The Israeli prime minister had told the Cabinet that accepting the deal with Hamas was “a difficult decision but it’s the right decision”. Three ministers of the far-right Jewish Power Party were the only members of the Israeli Cabinet to vote against the deal. Three ministers of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, who threatened before the meeting to vote against the deal, changed their position after hearing from the heads of the security services who recommended approving the agreement.

Photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO

Hamas: “We remain ready for war”

Hamas welcomed the “humanitarian truce” agreement approved by Israel. “The provisions of this agreement have been formulated in accordance with the vision of resistance and determination that aims to serve our people and strengthen their tenacity in the face of aggression,” the Islamist movement said in a statement. “We confirm that our hands will remain on the trigger and that our triumphant battalions will remain alert,” Hamas warned.

1.7 million Gazans displaced

In its latest update on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the main UN agency in the Gaza Strip said that almost 1.7 million people have been displaced since 7th October. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said that 930,000 internally-displaced people were sheltering in its premises across Gaza as of 19th November. The shelters were already severely overcrowded and have no more room for new arrivals, it said. Moreover, up to 50 per cent of the buildings in northern Gaza and Gaza governorates have been damaged in the war, according to an analysis of radar satellite data carried out by researchers at the City University of New York Graduate Centre and Oregon State University.

Photo credit:  Fatima Shbair/AP

Dutch voters choose new leaders in neck-and-neck race

Polling places have opened across the Netherlands in the 2023 Dutch general election. Workers and volunteers at 9,823 polling stations across the country are ready for 13.3 million residents to go and cast their votes in an election in which four parties have emerged as front-runners in the neck-and-neck race. Dutch voters, including 109,000 citizens living abroad, have a choice of 26 parties to vote for, and as many as 17 could win seats. European eyes are watching this election closely, after 13 years of governments under Mark Rutte. The winner could end up with less than 20 per cent of the national vote and fewer than 30 seats in the 150-seat parliament – unprecedented in Dutch politics. Centre-right leader Dilan Yesilgöz is tipped to win and become the first female Dutch prime minister. However, she is in a tight race with anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders and a left-alliance led by former top-ranking EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans.Trust in the government is at a low ebb after a political scandal left thousands of parents wrongly labelled as welfare fraudsters. A politician who championed their rights set up a centrist party only three months ago and already he is being cast as kingmaker. Pieter Omtzigt’s New Social Contract is likely to be central to forming the next coalition government. He has shown little interest in running the country, but whoever does win will need his support.

“My plan will be a shock but Argentina will take off” – Milei

The President-elect of Argentina, Javier Milei, said in an interview that his government will carry out “a strong fiscal adjustment towards a direct elimination of the financial deficit”. In an interview with Infobae columnist Manuel Adorni, published on YouTube, Milei said: “It will be a shock, there will be no gradualness”. “We will become ‘solvent’,” he said, “and we will pay the debt of $45 billion plus interest with the International Monetary Fund … Argentine government bonds and stocks rose. This means there is confidence in what we want to do.”

Photo credit:  Reuters

Football: Argentina stun Brazil following fan rampage

A 63rd minute header from Benfica’s Otamendi condemned Brazil to a third straight defeat – and a World Cup 2026 qualifier at home for the first time in their history – while Argentina continue rewriting the history books. This defeat leaves the Seleçao languishing in sixth place in the Conmebol Group of 10 teams. There was a stage however when it looked like the game might not even be played as the start of the World Cup qualifier was delayed by half an hour after police clashed with fans at Maracanã Stadium. Locals and Argentinian fans started fighting during the playing of the national anthems prompting the Brazilian police to charge the visiting contingent, who responded by ripping up and throwing seats at the officers. Fans near the trouble panicked and ran onto the pitch to escape the fighting. At least one injured fan was taken from the stadium on a stretcher. The Argentina team, led by captain Lionel Messi, went over to the terraces to try and calm the situation before leaving the pitch and returning to the dressing room. The world champion Argentina team eventually returned once the police had corralled the travelling fans in a pen and the match between South America’s fiercest footballing rivals started after a delay of about 30 minutes. The game as a contest was instantly forgettable with the pre-match incidents leading to a tense and abrasive first half with little football played. The game became more open in the second half with Brazil dominating and just when it seemed that the Seleçao were on top, Argentina delivered a sucker punch to silence the Maracanã. This victory, in the legendary fortress of Brazilian football in Rio de Janeiro, allowed Argentina to remain at the top of the South American qualifiers and to retreat after the 2-0 defeat against Uruguay on Thursday – their first after the world title won in Qatar. With all teams now having played six matches, Argentina lead the table with 15 points followed by Uruguay (13), Columbia (12), Venezuela (9), Ecuador (8), Brazil (7), Paraguay and Chile (5), Bolivia (3) and Peru (2).

Photo credit: Bruna Prado/AP

Main photo credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

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