The leader of Hamas says a truce agreement with Israel is close and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes for good news soon about hostages — the most optimistic signals so far of a deal to pause fighting and free captives.
It comes as the war in Gaza nears day 50, with at least 1200 Israelis and 13,300 Palestinians killed.
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Hamas officials were “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said.
Meanwhile Netanyahu said: “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.”
Netanyahu would convene his war cabinet on Tuesday “in light of developments in the matter of the release of our hostages,” his office said, followed by meetings of his wider security cabinet and the full cabinet.
A source briefed on the negotiations told Reuters the long-awaited agreement, which would include the first truce of the war and the first mass release of those held by both sides, was in its “final stages” and “closer than it has ever been”.
That was echoed by a US official, who said it was the “closest we’ve been” to a hostage deal.
The deal, as described by the first source, envisages the release of about 50 civilian hostages by Hamas and of female and minor-aged Palestinian detainees from Israeli custody, as well as a multi-day pause in fighting.
A Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations were centred on how long the truce would last, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and details of the exchange of captives.
Both sides would free women and children and details would be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations, Hamas official Issat el Reshiq said.
Israel’s Channel 12 and Channel 13 TV stations both quoted unidentified officials as saying terms of a deal could be reached “within hours”.
Hamas took about 240 hostages during its October 7 rampage into Israel that killed 1200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president Mirjana Spoljaric met Hamas leader Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday to “advance humanitarian issues” related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said.
She also separately met Qatari authorities.
The ICRC said it was not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages but, as a neutral intermediary, it was ready “to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to”.
The Hamas raid on October 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history, prompted Israel to invade Gaza to annihilate the militant group that has ruled there since 2007.
Since then, Gaza’s government says at least 13,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, including at least 5600 children, by Israeli bombardment that has turned much of Gaza, especially its northern half, into wasteland.
Gaza health authorities said on Tuesday at least 20 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza at midnight.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
The already crowded Nuseirat district, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, is just south of the wetlands that bisect the strip and has been the arrival point for huge numbers escaping the fighting further north.
Bombing in southern areas leaves Gazans fearing they have no place safe to go.
Neighbouring Egypt has allowed the relocation of some wounded and foreign passport holders but says it will not accept a mass exodus.
“Continued bombing targeting displaced people in the South has a clear objective, and that is to force Gaza’s residents to leave the Strip,” Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman said on X, formerly Twitter.
“Egypt has clearly declared its utter rejection of any enforced displacement attempt of Palestinians.”
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