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A look at the prospects for a cease-fire deal after Israel rescued 4 hostages from Hamas captivity

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s dramatic rescue of four hostages over the weekend from the depths of an urban area of ​​the Gaza Strip came at a delicate moment in the eight-month-old war, as Israel and Hamas weigh a US proposal for a cessation. -fire and liberation of the remaining captives.

Both sides face renewed pressure to reach a deal: The complex rescue is unlikely to be repeated on the scale needed to recover dozens of remaining hostages, and was a powerful reminder to the Israelis that there are still surviving captives held in harsh conditions. conditions. Hamas now has four fewer bargaining chips.

But they could also insist, as they have repeatedly during months of indirect negotiations brokered by the United States, Qatar and Egypt. Hamas continues to insist on an end to the war as part of any deal, while Israel says it is still committed to destroying the militant group.

Here’s a look at the fallout from the operation and how it could affect ceasefire talks:

Euphoria and growing calls for an agreement

The rescue operation was Israel’s most successful since the start of the war, bringing home four of the approximately 250 captives captured by Hamas in its October 7 cross-border attack, including Noa Argamani, who became an icon of the fight to free the hostages. .

The raid also killed at least 274 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, deepening the suffering of Gaza’s population who have had to endure brutal war and a humanitarian catastrophe.

The rescue was greeted with jubilation in Israel, which is still recovering from the Hamas attack and agonizing over the fate of the 80 captives and the remains of more than 40 people still held in Gaza. Israeli hardliners are likely to seize on it as proof that military pressure alone will bring the rest back.

But only three other hostages have been freed by military force since the start of the war. Three others were mistakenly killed by Israeli forces after they escaped on their own, and Hamas says others were killed in Israeli airstrikes.

“If anyone believes that yesterday’s operation absolves the government of the need to reach an agreement, they are living a fantasy,” wrote Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea in the best-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot. “There are people who need to be saved and the sooner the better.”

Even Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari acknowledged the limits of military force. “What will get most of the hostages home alive is a deal,” he told reporters.

More than 100 hostages were freed during a week-long ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, and striking a similar deal is still widely seen as the only way to get the rest of the hostages back. Hours after Saturday’s bailout, tens of thousands of Israelis attended protests in Tel Aviv calling for such a deal.

US President Joe Biden last week announced a proposal for a gradual plan for a ceasefire and the release of hostages, launching the administration’s most focused diplomatic initiative to achieve a truce.

Biden described it as an Israeli proposal, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly questioned some aspects of it, particularly his call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a lasting truce. His ultranationalist coalition partners have threatened to topple his government if he ends the war without destroying Hamas.

This appears to have deepened suspicions on the part of Hamas, which has demanded international guarantees that the war will end. It is unclear whether such guarantees have been offered and Hamas has not yet officially responded to the plan.

NETANYAHU LOOKS TO WIN

The rescue operation was a rare victory for Netanyahu, who many Israelis blame for the security failures that led to the Oct. 7 attack and for failing to return the hostages despite months of grinding war.

He reveled in the success of the operation, rushing Saturday to the hospital where the freed hostages were being held and meeting with each of them as cameras rolled. Recent opinion polls had already shown him making some progress in rehabilitating his image, and the rescue operation will help.

But as the euphoria fades, it will continue to face strong pressure from a US administration that wants to end the war and from an ultranationalist base that wants to defeat Hamas at all costs. His main political opponent, retired Gen. Benny Gantz, left the wartime emergency coalition on Sunday, leaving Netanyahu even more beholden to hardliners.

Netanyahu is already facing criticism from some of the families of the deceased hostages, who say they received no such visits and accuse him of taking sole credit for the war’s successes. Israel is also likely to face increased international pressure over the high Palestinian death toll caused by the attack.

“The success in freeing four hostages is a magnificent tactical victory that has not changed our deplorable strategic situation,” columnist Ben Caspit wrote in the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

All of this constitutes a difficult balancing act, even for someone like Netanyahu, whom friends and enemies alike consider a master politician.

The operation could give the Israeli public the kind of boost that would allow it to justify a deal with Hamas. Or he could conclude that time is on his side and that he can strike a tougher deal with the militants as they face a major setback.

HAMAS LOSES BARGAINING CHIPS

Hamas has lost four valuable bargaining chips that it hoped to exchange for high-profile Palestinian prisoners. Argamani, widely known for a video showing her pleading for her life as militants dragged her away on a motorcycle, was a particularly significant loss for Hamas.

The attack may also have dealt a blow to Hamas’s morale. In the October 7 attack, Hamas managed to humiliate a country with a vastly superior military and has since repeatedly regrouped despite devastating military operations throughout Gaza.

But the fact that Israel was able to mount a complex rescue operation in broad daylight in the center of a crowded urban area has restored, at least temporarily, some of the mystique that Israel’s security forces lost on October 7. .

The operation also refocused global attention on the hostage crisis at a time when the United States is putting global pressure on Hamas to accept the ceasefire agreement.

But Hamas has a long history of resisting pressure from Israel and others, often at enormous cost to the Palestinians. The militants may conclude that it is better to use the remaining hostages to end the war while they can, or they could simply look for better places to hide them.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Aunt Goldenberg, Associated Press

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