Israel-Hamas: why did the release of the second group of hostages take longer than expected?

Guillaume Dominguez / Photo credits: BELAL AL ​​SABBAGH / AFPTV / AFP
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8:18 a.m., November 26, 2023

A second group of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) shortly before midnight local time on Saturday evening. A liberation which took longer than expected because Hamas abruptly suspended the liberation operation late Saturday afternoon.

The process seemed to be on track this Saturday after the announcement of the release, during the day, of several hostages, held in the Gaza Strip, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. But at 6 p.m. local time, Hamas announced that it was suspending the operation. Officially, the terrorist organization accuses Israel of not respecting the terms of the ceasefire by preventing humanitarian convoys from going to northern Gaza, considered by Tel Aviv to be a war zone.

Hamas also criticizes the Jewish state for its selection criteria for Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for hostages. In response, the Israeli army increased the pressure and issued an ultimatum to the terrorist movement in the evening: the release of the hostages before midnight or a resumption of fighting.

An internal war within Hamas?

Very quickly, the atmosphere became tense, but behind the scenes, discussions resumed through Qatar and Egypt. After three hours of vagueness, Hamas finally announces that the release of the hostages will be successful. Unofficially, for Frédéric Encel, specialist in the Middle East, the suspension of the operation could also be linked to an internal war within Hamas itself.

“We know that Islamic Jihad and two or three sub-groups which crossed the barrier on October 7 and which captured hostages could want to compete with Hamas to obtain advantages from this organization. And besides, the Hamas very quickly affirmed that it was not holding the 240 hostages,” explains the expert. If the Israeli army’s ultimatum made it possible, this time, to resolve the situation, these possible conflicts of interest within the terrorist organization itself could complicate the release of the next hostages.

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