A humanitarian pause in Gaza?

Israel said yesterday its forces have now split the Gaza Strip in two while encircling Gaza City in the enclave’s north. Israeli troops could soon enter the city, where Hamas forces are reportedly concentrated.

This staged escalation in theory aims to curb casualties, allow time for hostage negotiations to progress, and deflect international criticism.

But in reality, casualties keep rising, hostage negotiations keep dragging out, and international sentiment is hardly heading in Israel’s favour.

Israel’s critics accuse it of collective punishment and possible war crimes in Gaza. In response, Israel says it’s targeting Hamas, which it accuses of using residents as human shields while holding ~240 hostages.

So in this context, foreign ministers in the region pushed for a ceasefire on Saturday, but US Secretary of State Blinken dismissed the idea as a way for Hamas to regroup and attack Israel again (as it’s vowed to do).

Instead, the US and others are pushing for a localised ‘humanitarian pause’ to allow more aid in and more people out. But Israel is resisting the idea, reiterating that its objectives continue to be:

  • to free the ~240 hostages Hamas is holding, and
  • free Gaza from Hamas”.

Intrigue’s take: We’re seeing the world engage in rhetorical contortions to find a formulation that enough parties can accept here: a ‘humanitarian pause’, ‘ceasefire’, ‘truce’, ‘de-escalation’, ‘cessation of hostilities’, etc.

That’s often how diplomacy works. But it’s unclear whether any formulation could work right now. The parties are still so far apart.

So while we might see Israel agree to more humanitarian activities, it’s hard to see it shifting from its stated objectives right now.

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