Israel ready for truce in exchange for more hostages, Herzog tells foreign diplomats

President tells ambassadors from over 80 countries that UN must do more to facilitate entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza; says Israel’s fight is with Hamas, not Palestinians

President Isaac Herzog meets with a group of foreign ambassadors at his Jerusalem residence on December 19, 2023. (GPO)
President Isaac Herzog meets with a group of foreign ambassadors at his Jerusalem residence on December 19, 2023. (GPO)

Israel is prepared for a second pause in the fighting with Hamas in exchange for the release of more of the hostages held in Gaza, President Isaac Herzog told a group of ambassadors from some 80 countries on Tuesday.

In lieu of a traditional New Year reception, which was canceled against the backdrop of Israel’s ongoing war with the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, Herzog hosted ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps representing more than 80 countries for a briefing on the situation in Israel and Gaza.

During the briefing, he told the ambassadors that Israel is ready to pursue a second hostage exchange deal after the one carried out in late November, and placed an emphasis on Israel’s humanitarian efforts, his office said.

“I want to thank member states and leaders for leading the objective of releasing the hostages as soon as possible,” he said to those in attendance.

“Any effort that your states, your leaders, your media, and your diplomatic input can help in pressing on various countries who are involved in this saga is vital. First and foremost, we must remember that there are dozens of humanitarian cases within the group of hostages – such as babies, the elderly, sick, wounded, and, of course, many women.”

Herzog continued, “I can reiterate the fact that Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages. And the responsibility lies fully with [Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya] Sinwar and the leadership of Hamas.”

President Isaac Herzog meets with a group of foreign ambassadors at his Jerusalem residence on December 19, 2023. (GPO)

Of the 240 hostages seized by Hamas during the terror group’s murderous rampage through southern Israel on October 7, it is believed that 129 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November.

Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered, as were the bodies of three hostages who were mistakenly killed by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces has also confirmed the deaths of 21 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Following the deaths of the three hostages at the hands of IDF troops in Gaza last week, several reports on Saturday night indicated that Israel was looking to boost efforts to reach a new hostage deal with Hamas.

People walk by photographs of civilians held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, at “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv. December 19, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Herzog also urged international organizations to do more to facilitate the delivery of assistance into Gaza.

“It is really important for us to reiterate, we are not fighting the people of Gaza,” he told the ambassadors. “They are not our enemies. We are fighting Hamas, they are the enemy. And in this respect, we are taking all possible humanitarian steps according to international humanitarian law.

“We are [making] enormous efforts in order to increase the humanitarian aid to Gaza. We are dealing with major humanitarian efforts, with foreign hospitals being built. I want to commend the Emirati initiative. Others are following suit.

“The amount of humanitarian aid can be tripled instantaneously,” Herzog said. “For the last two weeks, Israel has operated new scanning equipment in Nitzana enabling the entry of 350 trucks a day. For the last two weeks there was a failure by the United Nations predominantly, and other partners, in the inflow of trucks into Gaza – only about 125 or 100 trucks a day.”

Trucks with humanitarian aid arrive at the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 18, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“You can triple the amount of trucks easily if there was only an effort by the United Nations and its partners. The world has to know that you could have had tens of thousands of tons a day more going into Gaza,” he added.

The UN has pushed back against the claim that it isn’t doing enough to facilitate the entry of aid trucks, saying that Israeli bombing has made it very difficult to safely deliver the aid.

The US argued that the bottleneck was caused by Israel’s refusal to reopen its Kerem Shalom Crossing after the October 7 Hamas massacres in southern Israel.

On Friday, after escalating pressure from the Biden administration, Israel’s cabinet voted to approve the temporary reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

The decision to reopen the crossing will allow 200 trucks per day of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza for the first time since the November truce.

However, the cabinet decision only extends to aid from Egypt and not the United Nations.

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