Israel, Hamas and the United States are close to reaching an agreement under which Hamas will release 50 women and children hostage taken during the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, in exchange for a four- to five-day cessation of fighting and three Palestinian prisoners. from Israeli prisons for every hostage released, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. Palestinian prisoners are also expected to be women and teenagers.
The Israeli Cabinet met to consider the proposed deal on Tuesday, in a meeting that extended until the early hours of Wednesday morning local time, following the meetings of the Military Cabinet and the Mini-Security Ministerial Council.
“We are making progress. I don’t think it is worth saying more, even at this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon,” Netanyahu said during his meeting with reservists on Tuesday.
American officials close to the negotiations stressed that although an agreement had not been reached, they were increasingly optimistic and believed that the many weeks of hard work were about to pay off with the release of the hostages.
Reaching an agreement would lead to the first sustained cessation of fighting and a major de-escalation step by Israel since the war began.
One source told CNN that the hostages to be released are of different nationalities, adding that the Americans hope that one of them is the 3-year-old little girl, Abigail Aidan – the youngest American hostage – whose parents were killed by Hamas. It was not immediately clear how many American citizens – if any – would be among the 50 hostages that Hamas would initially release under the deal.
The movement says that the hostages that Hamas initially offered to release are alive, according to a source familiar with the talks.
The Israeli government aims to release at least 50 hostages as part of the deal on Tuesday – 10 hostages per day for five days – an Israeli government source told CNN. The government will be willing to extend the agreement if Hamas is willing to release more hostages.
Sources told CNN that Hamas initially demanded that Israeli air surveillance stop for the duration of the cessation of fighting for several days. During the negotiations, the two sides agreed that reconnaissance drones would clear Gaza’s airspace for part of each day. This six-hour period is the period during which Hamas is expected to attempt to transfer the hostages without giving up their positions.
Under the prospective agreement, Hamas will also collect any additional women and children as hostages during the period in which fighting stops – something the group has insisted it cannot do before a permanent ceasefire is reached. The temporary ceasefire will likely be extended beyond that until more hostages are released. But Netanyahu also made clear that the war would continue after the end of the truce.
Speaking before a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that Israeli security agencies support the proposed deal.
He added: “They made it clear that the war effort would not only not be harmed, but would enable the Israeli army to prepare to continue fighting.” He added that Israeli intelligence efforts and the security of the Israeli army forces will be preserved.
Hamas demanded hundreds of aid trucks, mostly fuel, as part of the negotiations. Fuel is considered an essential element in managing its military operations and ventilating the movement’s network of underground tunnels in Gaza.
A source familiar with the negotiations said there is hope that with the hostage deal more aid will be allowed into Gaza, as stakeholders work towards a target of 400 trucks arriving per day.
The deal will come after weeks of painstaking negotiations between Israel, Hamas and the United States, with Qatar playing a key mediation role. Qatar delivered a draft of the hostage deal to the Israelis early Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Majid Al-Ansari told CNN.
Implementation of the agreement will not begin immediately and may take at least a day to begin, the person familiar with the matter said, partly because there are legal procedures Israel must follow before releasing any Palestinian prisoners.
One source said that the release of prisoners requires the approval of the Israeli government, but this is not expected to pose an obstacle. As Cabinet officials met inside the Israeli Defense Building to discuss the deal late Tuesday, families of the hostages gathered outside carrying signs and drums.
But two far-right Israeli parties, which are members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, later indicated that they would not support the hostage deal being considered by the government.
The Religious Zionist Party, headed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, said, “The proposed deal is bad and we should not agree to it.” It is bad for Israel’s security, for the hostages and for the IDF soldiers,” he said, adding that “the only way to return all the hostages is to continue military pressure on Hamas until its complete surrender.” The Jewish Power party, which is led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, also said that it “will find it very difficult In support of the deal.”
The two parties’ statement indicated that they have not yet seen the full terms of the deal.
Over the past few days, diplomatic sources and government officials, including US President Joe Biden, have expressed a more optimistic tone about the progress of the talks. But the various parties involved also stressed that any agreement could be derailed by Hamas and developments on the ground in Gaza.
On Monday night, the Hamas leader said in a statement that the two parties were “close to reaching a truce agreement.”
The latest momentum comes just one day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet met with the families of the hostages.
Israel said there are more than 200 hostages believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza. After the release of the women and children, further negotiations are likely to begin to secure the release of other categories of hostages.
Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross are expected to participate in the release process, including possibly verifying the identity of hostages in Gaza and prisoners in Israel who are part of the exchange, and transporting them across the border. The Swiss organization has previously acted as an intermediary in hostage exchanges, including the release of two hostages by Hamas last month.
Gershon Baskin, a well-known Israeli peace activist who participated in the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from a Hamas prison in 2011, said that the hostages in Gaza will likely be transported in Red Cross vehicles to Egypt, where they will be received by Egyptian intelligence. Gaskin said they would likely be transported from there to Israel in ambulances or buses.
Once the hostages arrive in Israel, “they will likely receive immediate medical care,” according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
“We have to assume that many of them require some type of medical care and are being held in appalling conditions,” Kirby said.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, met on Monday in Qatar with the political leader of the Hamas movement, according to the relief organization.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was not participating in the negotiations but was “ready to facilitate any future release agreed upon by the parties to the conflict.”
Senior US officials worked intensively to secure the hostages’ release for several weeks, on the grounds that a handful of American hostages were being held hostage by Hamas. Biden spoke directly with Netanyahu, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about the issue.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that Biden was “personally involved in moving the process forward” and was receiving updates from the US team involved in the negotiations “usually several times a day and stepping in when he felt it was appropriate to intervene.” Personally.”
Netanyahu said he asked Biden to help improve the proposed deal and “in fact, it was improved to include more hostages and at a lower cost.”
Senior Biden officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk, and CIA Director Bill Burns, were involved “almost hourly” in the effort to extract the hostages from Gaza, the sources said. McGurk recently traveled to the Middle East on a multi-country trip aimed in large part at making progress on the release of hostages.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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