Israel’s war cabinet met Tuesday evening amid signs that a deal to free dozens of hostages held by Hamas in the war-torn Gaza Strip was imminent.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, summoned officials after saying “progress” was being made on a deal that could lead to a four-day pause in the war.
An Israeli government source told reporters Tuesday that the agreement is expected to release 50 Israeli citizens, mostly women and children, in groups of 12 or 13 per day.
In exchange, Israel would release Palestinian women and minors from prison and agree to a four-day truce in Gaza, as well as a significant increase in fuel and aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip.
Joe Biden, the US president, said earlier that a deal to free some of the 240 hostages held by Hamas was “now very close”.
“Nothing is done until it is done”
“We may be able to repatriate some of these hostages very soon,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.
“But I don’t want to go into detail because nothing is done until it’s done.”
Hopes for an imminent breakthrough began to soar early Tuesday morning after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group was “close to reaching an agreement.”
Qatar, which has been a key mediator, said the negotiations were at a “critical and final stage”.
“We are at the closest point we have ever come to reaching an agreement,” said Majed Al-Ansari, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Netanyahu chaired a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet at 6 p.m. local time and was scheduled to meet with the security cabinet at 7 p.m. and the full cabinet an hour later.
Authorities were expected to approve the deal, but some partners in the prime minister’s far-right coalition criticized the move toward a deal.
“Releasing Palestinian prisoners would be a disaster”
Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, said any deal to free Palestinian prisoners would result in a “disaster”, citing the more than 1,000 people freed in 2011 following the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whose some are said to have participated in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas massacre on October 7.
However, he and his like-minded colleagues should not be able to derail the deal.
But even once approved, the families of the hostages would have to wait another 24 hours before this measure could come into force.
This would allow legal recourse, most likely from the Israeli families of the victims of Palestinian prisoners who should be released.
Liz Hirsh Naftali, the great-aunt of three-year-old American hostage Abigail Mor Idan, said: “I will believe it when I see them come out. »
Meanwhile, Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, told the BBC: “I hope we see the liberation of our people soon, but I’m still not 100 percent sure.” »
Despite the warnings, the decision by the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Qatar was seen as a positive sign, as the organization is likely to oversee any prisoner exchanges.
Supposed figures for the number of Palestinians who could be released under the deal vary between 150 and 300.
The deal will be divided into two phases, with the second stage leading to the release of dozens more Israeli hostages in exchange for a ceasefire lasting several more days, sources familiar with the talks told the website. Axios information.
Additionally, 300 humanitarian trucks per day would be allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt.
Although the agreement is likely to include a pause in the Israeli army’s ground and air attacks in Gaza, Israel has been keen to rule out a longer-term ceasefire.
During a visit to troops fighting Hezbollah in the north of the country on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said: “The first goal is to eliminate Hamas – we will not stop until that is achieved.”
“I hope there will be good news soon”
“The second objective is the return of the hostages. I don’t think it’s necessary to dwell on this point even now, but I hope there will be good news soon.”
As well as going some way to appease the Israeli public angered by the October 7 security failures, a deal would ease diplomatic pressure on Mr Netanyahu amid growing international horror over the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. .
Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry says 13,300 people, including more than 5,500, have been killed by the Israeli offensive, figures that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “staggering and unacceptable”.
On Tuesday, it was reported that all hospitals in northern Gaza were out of order and that 250 Israeli strikes had taken place the previous night in the enclave.
This came as Saudi Arabia demanded the start of a peace process aimed at establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
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