The leader of Hamas has said a deal on a truce with Israel is close – raising hopes of the realease of dozens of hostages being held inside Gaza and a pause in the Israeli military offensive on the besieged territory.
Ismail Haniyeh, of the Hamas’s political wing, said: “We are close to reaching a deal on a truce” and that Hamas had delievered its response to mediators from Qatar. There has been no immediate response from Israel.
A source has told The Independent: “There is an understanding that women and children will come out of Gaza between 50 and 75,” adding that an estimated 40 children will be included. “This will involve a ceasefire or pause.” Any deal is expected to be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations.
Negotiators have been working to secure a deal to allow the release of about 240 mostly Israeli hostages who were seized on 7 October when Hamas launched attacks into Israel which killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
A deal may include a multi-day truce of up to five days, comprising a ceasefire on the ground and limits to Israeli air operations over southern Gaza. Between 50 and 100 Israeli civilian and foreign hostages would be released, but no military personnel. In exchange, up to 300 Palestinians would be released from Israeli jails, with a report from Axios suggesting that a ratio of three prisioners for every one hostage would be used.
President Joe Biden boosted hopes of a release on Monday, saying that he believed a deal to free the hostages was close. “I believe so,” Mr Biden said when asked whether a hostage deal was near, and crossed his fingers. On Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, told ABC that Israel was hopeful a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas "in coming days." The same day Qatari prime minister sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main obstacles to a deal were now “very minor”, with mainly “practical and logistical” issues to surmount.
Israel’s three-member war cabinet met with representatives of the hostages’ families Monday evening. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told families the government considers the release of hostages and the defeat of Hamas to be equally important, according to a family member who attended.
Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Chaimi is in captivity in Gaza, said that was "incredibly disappointing" for the families, as Israel has said it could take months to dismantle Hamas.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas. In the wake of the attack on 7 October the Israeli military launched a ferocious bombing campaign and imposed a crippling blockade on Hamas-run Gaza. Across the territory, there are shortages of food, water and fuel for generators to power basic infrastructure.
The health ministry inside the Hamas-controlled territory more than 13,000 Palestinians including 5,500 children have been killed. Israeli ground troops and artillery have penetrated deep inside the strip, including encircling and entering hospitals they accuse militants of using as bases.
The Israeli bombardment has turned much of Gaza, particularly northern Gaza where military operations have been focused, into a wasteland, with about two-thirds of the territory’s 2.3 million residents rendered homeless, leading to calls for a ceasefire or humanitarian truce.
The statement from Hamas came in the wake of Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meeting with Haniyeh and separately with authorities of the state of Qatar to “advance humanitarian issues” related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement.
The ICRC said it does not take part in negotiations leading to the release of hostages. “As a neutral humanitarian intermediary, we remain ready to facilitate any future release that the parties to the conflict agree to, as ICRC staff have already done on two occasions,” the group added.
The has shifted to the Jabaliya camp, a dense warren of concrete buildings near the northern Gaza City that houses refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Israel has been bombarding the area for weeks, and the military said Hamas fighters have regrouped there and in other eastern districts after being pushed out of much of Gaza City.
Fighting has also intensified outside the Indonesian Hospital on the outskirts of Jabaliya. Health officials in Gaza said on Tuesday that hundreds of patients and displaced people are trapped inside with dwindling supplies after some 200 were evacuated the day before. Palestinian officials said an Israeli shell struck the hospital on Monday, killing 12 people. Israel denied shelling the hospital, saying its troops returned fire on militants who targeted them from inside.
Additional reporting by agencies