Israel and Hamas have expressed willingness to extend the ceasefire. But doing so will not be easy.
A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is in its fourth and final day, and pressure is mounting on both sides to extend the pause in fighting.
Since Friday, Hamas has so far released 58 hostages and Israel has released 117 Palestinian prisoners from its jails.
But even if Israel and Hamas were willing to extend the ceasefire, doing so would be fraught with difficulties.
Logistical problems: Not all of the approximately 240 people brought to Gaza during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel were members of the militant group Hamas that launched the attack. More than 40 of the hostages are being held by groups other than Hamas, a diplomatic source briefed on the talks told CNN.
CNN previously reported that 40 to 50 hostages were being held by Palestinian Islamic Jihad or other militant groups.
A cease-fire agreement requires Hamas — not another group — to hand over hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Thus, even if Hamas is willing to extend the ceasefire, it may have difficulty finding additional hostages. Coordinating their release may also be difficult, as communications in Gaza have been disrupted by Israeli airstrikes.
Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who helped negotiate the initial deal, told the Financial Times that any extension of the fighting could mean Hamas finding more hostages.
“If they get more women and children, there will be an extension,” al-Thani said, adding that one of the aims of the cease-fire is for Hamas to “search for the missing”.
Strategic Issues: Extending the ceasefire in exchange for the release of more hostages could pose strategic problems for Israel and Hamas.
For Hamas, holding hostages represents the only real leverage they have over Israel. The only thing that forced Israel to give up in seven weeks of fighting was the release of the hostages.
In exchange for the release of Israeli hostages, Hamas may soon raise its price, requiring longer pauses in the fighting or the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners. Because Hamas is unwilling to give up its influence over Israel, the number of hostages is limited.
For Israel, the cease-fire agreement allowed it to take action to achieve one of its war goals: the release of Israeli hostages. But extending the ceasefire further would make it more difficult to achieve its ultimate war goal – the destruction of Hamas.
Before the cease-fire deal was announced last week, a survey of Israelis conducted by the Israel Democracy Initiative found that freeing all hostages was a more important war goal than defeating Hamas. But the Israeli government has insisted that it is committed to achieving both goals.
Each lull in the fighting gives Hamas more time to regroup, and fighting in southern Gaza will escalate. Under an initial cease-fire agreement, Israel and the United States agreed to end surveillance drone flights over Gaza, something Israel was reluctant to do because it would cost Hamas fighters mobility.
So extending the cease-fire may advance one of Israel’s war goals while delaying and defeating another.
CNN’s Becky Anderson reported for this publication.
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