Palestinian sources and mediator Qatar said Tuesday a deal to free hostages abducted from Israel in exchange for a Palestinian prisoners release, and a truce in the Gaza war is ‘close’.
There was no immediate response from Israel, which has vowed to crush Hamas in response to its unprecedented October 7 attack which killed around 1,200 people in Israel, according to official figures.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday that until the estimated 240 hostages are freed, there will be no letup in Israel’s offensive on the Hamas-ruled territory, which has killed more than 13,300 people, according to the Hamas authorities.
Qatar, key mediator alongside Egypt in efforts to secure the deal, said Tuesday negotiations were at “a critical and final stage”.
Here is what we know:
– ‘We are close’ to deal –
Early Tuesday, Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a brief statement posted online: “We are close to reaching a deal on a truce.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources said details of the agreement would be announced officially by Qatar and other mediators.
“We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement,” Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said later Tuesday, adding negotiations were at a “critical and final stage”.
– Up to 100 hostages, 300 Palestinian prisoners –
Two sources close to the tentative deal have said that between 50 and 100 civilian hostages would be released, but no military personnel.
In exchange, Israel would release from its prisons 300 Palestinians, among them women and children.
The transfer would span several days, with 10 hostages and 30 Palestinians prisoners released each day.
– Stumbling block –
But the same sources said Israel had insisted that captive soldiers should also be released if they are related to a civilian abductee freed by the militants — despite Hamas objections.
“Qatar and Egypt are currently working with the US administration to resolve that issue,” the sources said, adding that only then would a date for a truce be announced.
– Tentative five-day truce –
According to the same sources, the deal includes a “complete ceasefire” on the ground for five days, with Israel allowed to fly sorties over northern Gaza for 18 hours a day.
The deal also provides for between 100 and 300 trucks of food and medical aid, as well as fuel, to enter Gaza, the sources said.
– Families disappointed –
Relatives of the hostages met on Monday evening with Netanyahu, who told them: “We will not stop fighting until we bring our hostages home” and “destroy” Hamas.
But the families expressed frustration after the meeting.
“We wanted to hear about a deal and that return of the abductees is a priority among the war objectives. We didn’t hear that,” said Udi Goren, whose cousin is among the hostages.
– US ‘hopeful’ –
On Monday, US President Joe Biden indicated a deal was near.
“I believe so,” Biden said at the White House when asked by a reporter whether a hostage deal was near.
His national security spokesman John Kirby later said: “We believe we’re closer than we’ve ever been, so we’re hopeful.”
– Red Cross –
Hope for a deal grew after the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has helped facilitate past prisoner exchanges and hostage releases between Israel and the Palestinians, met with the Hamas chief in Doha on Monday as well as with Qatari officials.
The ICRC said in a statement it was “insisting that our teams be allowed to visit the hostages to check on their welfare and deliver medications, and for the hostages to be able to communicate with their families.”
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