A high-ranking Israeli official said that a deal with Hamas that would see the terror group release dozens of women and children it is holding in the Gaza Strip is nearing completion and could be announced within days, The Washington Post reported Monday.
“The general outline of the deal is understood,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying.
Under the emerging outline, the hostages would be released in groups, in exchange for Palestinian women and minors incarcerated in Israel, the report said.
Hamas-led terrorists took some 240 hostages during their devastating October 7 attack on Israel, in which they killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians in their homes and at a music festival. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.
The Post report, published as an opinion piece by journalist David Ignatius, said Israel is seeking the release of 100 women and children thought to be held by Hamas, while the terror group has indicated its willingness to free 70.
It cited an Arab official as saying there are at least 120 Palestinian women and youngsters in Israeli prisons who could be released in exchange.
Israel would also agree to a temporary ceasefire of up to five days, in order to allow safe passage for the hostages and an influx of aid for Gazan civilians, according to the report.
Israel wants confirmation that captives held in Gaza are being released as it exchanges prisoners and the verification process for that is still being negotiated, the Post said.
The Israeli official stressed that Israel is committed to seeing freedom for all of the hostages, assessing they include about 90 male civilians and a smaller number of soldiers.
“We want as many as possible, as quickly as possible, and no one stays behind,” he said.
Hamas has tried claiming to the mediating Qataris it is only holding soldiers, the report said, apparently referring to the male captives, though the Israeli official rejected that as false.
While Hamas holds the “vast majority” of the hostages, along with the bodies of some people, other terror groups also hold captives, the official said, but noted Hamas has the ability to negotiate with most of those groups.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad holds about 35 hostages and other groups a few dozen more, he said.
Over the past week, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani has met with CIA Director William J. Burns and David Barnea, director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, to discuss the outlines of the deal, the report said.
The Mossad has worked with the CIA and Qataris on the deal but Israeli officials want Qatar to use its influence with Hamas for the release of captives rather than just mediating, according to the Post. It said Israel believes Egypt has also been helpful in the negotiations and has been putting pressure on Hamas.
On Monday, Reuters cited a statement from Hamas posted on its Telegram channel saying it is prepared to release 70 women and children in an exchange deal.
In an audio recording posted to the channel, Abu Ubaida, spokesman for the Hamas armed wing, asserted Qataris had been negotiating for the release of 200 Palestinian women and children he said were being held in Israelis prisons.
He said Israel was “procrastinating and evading” the cost of the prisoner exchange, Reuters reported.
Abu Ubaida also said, “The truce should include a complete ceasefire and allow aid and humanitarian relief everywhere in the Gaza Strip.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there “could be” a potential deal to release some of the hostages.
In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Netanyahu was cautious when asked about the reported emerging hostage deal.
“I think the less I say about it, the more I’ll increase the chances that it materializes,” Netanyahu said.
“There could be, but I think the less I say about it, the more I’ll increase the chances that it materializes." pic.twitter.com/RXc3I7sOY3
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) November 12, 2023
Meanwhile, NBC News cited a US administration official confirming earlier reporting that a potential deal being discussed would see some 80 women and children held hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza released in exchange for Israel freeing imprisoned female and underage terror convicts.
The official stressed that the reported deal was not a sure thing, and that Washington was following up on all options for the release of the hostages.
Also Sunday, US President Joe Biden discussed efforts to secure the release of the hostages held in Gaza during a phone call with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Biden “condemned unequivocally the holding of hostages by Hamas, including many young children, one of whom is a 3-year old American citizen toddler, whose parents were killed by Hamas on October 7,” the White House said, highlighting the specific plight of a young American hostage for what appears to be the first time.
Biden also expressed his appreciation to Qatar for its efforts in mediating the release of four hostages last month, two of whom were US citizens, the White House said.
Aside from those four, one captured soldier was rescued by security forces.