Gaza Hostage Talks Intensify With Limited Truce Deal On Horizon
The comments come after President Joe Biden said Monday that Israel and Hamas are closing in on a deal to free a group of hostages.
(Bloomberg) -- Talks between Hamas and Israel via intermediaries about a potential truce deal appear to be intensifying, with the Palestinian group mulling the release of hostages that could lead to a limited pause in heavy fighting.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gave rare public comments indicating progress in the Qatar-mediated negotiations, after US President Joe Biden said an accord could be reached to free some of the 240 people kidnapped when Hamas fighters stormed Israel on Oct. 7.
“The movement delivered its response to the brothers in Qatar and the mediators, and we are close to reaching a truce agreement,” Haniyeh said in a statement on Telegram.
Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas, has said for weeks that it won’t contemplate a cease-fire until all hostages are returned. But in recent days there have been growing signs the two sides are nearing a deal.
Qatar, which hosts some of Hamas’s political leaders, is helping broker the talks between Israel and the group, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union. Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said the negotiations are at a critical stage.
Talks have fallen through in the past, however, and there’s no guarantee of success on this occasion.
The developments come as international pressure grows on Israel to end its more than six-week retaliatory offensive in Gaza, which authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say has killed thousands of civilians and which has triggered a humanitarian crisis.
An Arab and Muslim delegation headed by Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat visited Russia a day after talks in China and called for an “urgent” cease-fire in Gaza. Leaders of the BRICS club of major emerging nations will also hold a video summit Tuesday on the Israel-Hamas war.
Hamas has agreed in principle for more than 50 women and children to be released, Axios reported earlier. In return, Israel would pause its military attacks for a specified time each day and release some Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Israel’s Channel 12 cited an unnamed senior Israeli official saying that a hostage deal is “very close.” Those to be released would be children, their mothers, and other women, the report added.
Israeli forces have been engaged in intense fighting with Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip. The main thrust of Israel’s ground offensive is eastwards into Gaza City, which the military describes as Hamas’s “center of gravity.” Israeli forces have taken control of many parts of the city’s Al Shifa hospital and over the weekend showed videos they say prove Hamas exploited the facility, building a command center and tunnels underneath.
While Israel has concentrated its air strikes and ground assault on northern Gaza, it is now turning its attention to the south, signaling the possibility of sending troops there. Israel has urged civilians to evacuate to southern Gaza since the beginning of the war.
The United Nations says the humanitarian situation in the densely packed Gaza Strip is dire and that its roughly 2 million inhabitants need much more food and medicine.
Fears also remain of the war spreading into a wider Middle East conflict with daily exchanges of fire along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
Israeli warplanes on Tuesday struck targets inside Lebanese territory after Iran-backed militia Hezbollah shot mortar shells at a military post, Israel’s army said. Three civilians including two journalists died in the Israeli bombing, the state-run National News Agency reported.
--With assistance from Michael Heath, Gwen Ackerman and Omar Tamo.
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