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The United States and Qatar signaled on Sunday that they are nearing a deal to free a significant number of civilians held hostage by Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Any progress is expected to prompt a multi-day pause in Israel’s assault on Gaza and an increase in urgently needed aid to the coastal enclave, which is enduring a deep humanitarian crisis.
The plight of some 240 hostages has shocked Israelis and become a politically sensitive issue for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is leading an offensive against Hamas, while families of those held captive have pressed his government to do more to secure their freedom. .
US Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer said Washington believed we were “closer to reaching a final agreement” and that “many of the differences that existed before have narrowed”.
The Biden administration and Israel have resisted calls for a cease-fire in the war with Hamas, instead insisting it will come only after the Palestinian Islamist group agrees to release large numbers of civilians captured by Israeli air and ground strikes. In its October 7 attack.
At a press conference late Sunday, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari showed what he called “conclusive evidence” that Hamas was hiding at least two hostages at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. .
“The Israel Defense Forces have a moral obligation to bring home every single one of our hostages,” Hagari said. “We won’t rest until we do.”
Prisoner release talks are being facilitated with US ally Qatar, which hosts Hamas’ political office in Doha. Negotiators previously believed they were close to reaching a deal, only to end differences between Israel and Hamas.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told reporters in Doha on Sunday that “good progress has been made over the past few days”. He added that there are few obstacles to an agreement between Israel and Hamas.
At a briefing in Bahrain on Saturday, White House Middle East adviser Brett McGurk said a pause in Israel’s assault on Gaza and humanitarian relief and fuel “will come when the hostages are released.”
Israel has besieged Gaza and its forces have moved deeper into the area since launching its offensive, which killed about 1,200 people in an October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel, according to Israeli officials.
According to Palestinian officials, almost 11,500 people have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza, while UN officials have warned of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the region of 2.3 million people, amid shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine.
A deal to release dozens of civilian hostages held by Hamas would lead to Israel suspending its offensive for several days. Hamas also wants the release of many Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons.
People close to the talks say talks are progressing, but remain tight-lipped on details. Hamas’s demand for a five-day truce, Israel’s demand to be shorter, and the question of where freed Palestinian prisoners would go, one person briefed on the talks explained.
“The mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed really applies, and we still don’t have a deal,” Feiner told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday. “Until that happens, you know, we’re not going to make all the details public.”
Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told ABC’s This Week program that he believed a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas “in the coming days.”
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