Hopes mounted yesterday that dozens of hostages seized by Hamas could be released from war-torn Gaza, after Hamas leader Ismail Haniey and key mediator Qatar said a truce agreement with Israel was in sight.
“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to Agence France-Presse, after US President Joe Biden on Monday indicated an accord was on the cards.
In Qatar, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Majed al-
Ansari told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.
“We’re very optimistic, very hopeful,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that progress was being made on the release of hostages.
“We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not at even this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon,” he told reservists, according to a statement from his office.
Netanyahu did not provide further details.
His office said that “in light of developments in the matter of the release of our hostages,” he would convene his war Cabinet at 6pm, his broader security Cabinet at 7pm and the full Cabinet at 8pm.
Hopes of a breakthrough have been mounting since Qatar on Sunday said only “minor” practical issues remained to secure a deal.
Speculation grew further when the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is often involved in prisoner exchanges and hostage releases, on Monday said that its president had met Haniyeh in Qatar.
Despite the efforts toward a truce, fighting raged on in Gaza’s bloodiest ever war, sparked by the Oct. 7 attack in which Israel says Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.
Sources from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which also participated in the attacks, said on condition of anonymity that their groups had agreed to the terms of a truce deal.
The tentative agreement would include a five-day truce, composed of a complete ceasefire on the ground and an end to Israeli air operations over Gaza, except in the north, where they would only halt for six hours daily.
Under the deal, which the sources said could yet change, between 50 and 100 Israeli civilian and foreign hostages would be released, but no military personnel. In exchange, about 300 Palestinians would be freed from Israeli jails, among them women and minors.
An agreement could bring some respite for Gazans who have endured more than six weeks under Israel bombardment and an expanding ground offensive.
Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of airstrikes, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed to enter.
According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources, the proposed deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza.
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