American and Qatari officials indicated Sunday that Israel and Hamas were closing in on a deal that would see a limited release of some hostages held in Gaza. The details of a potential agreement remained murky, amid conflicting reports as to how close the sides actually were to sealing an exchange.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that “we are closer than we have been” to a deal securing the partial release of the some 240 hostages held in the Strip, but that several outstanding issues remained in the talks. He also told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “gaps have narrowed” in recent days.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said a deal under discussion hinges on “minor” practical issues.
“The challenges that remain in the negotiations are very minor compared to the bigger challenges. They are more logistical, they are more practical,” Al Thani told a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
According to a Washington Post report, the deal on the table would see the release of dozens of women and children hostages being held by terrorists in Gaza, in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting.
Israel is also widely expected to free dozens of female and minor Palestinian prisoners held in its jails in return.
On Sunday evening, a Hamas source told the Jordanian Al-Ghad news outlet that a ceasefire was to begin on Monday at 11 a.m. as part of a hostage deal. But senior Israeli officials speaking to multiple Hebrew media outlets denied any agreement had been reached regarding a morning ceasefire.
Fueling rumors, ministers were urgently called to IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv Sunday night for a meeting, details of which were not released, but media widely speculated they discussed the details of a deal.
Following that meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office said members of the war cabinet would meet with representatives of hostages’ families on Monday evening.
Channel 12 reported that while Israel is demanding the release of all hostage children and their mothers, Hamas is claiming it does not know the location of them all — as the hostages are being held by various factions and cells — and needs the pause in fighting to determine where they all are.
The Washington Post on Sunday cited a “detailed, six-page agreement,” that says Israel and Hamas will freeze all hostilities for at least five days while an “initial 50 or more” of the hostages taken “are released in batches every 24 hours.”
The reported deal will also include a “significant increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance, including fuel” that will enter the Gaza Strip.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the United States National Security Council said: “We have not reached a deal yet, but we continue to work hard to get to a deal.”
“We’ve made some progress recently and have been working hard to advance this, but it remains a volatile situation,” a Biden administration official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.
In its report, the Washington Post cited Arab and other diplomats who said the deal has been in the works during weeks of talks in Doha.
According to a Channel 13 report Sunday, Israeli officials do not share the optimism of their American and Qatari counterparts.
Hamas is demanding that a ceasefire deal take place in three steps, with a 5-day ceasefire for each stage, while Israel is insistent that there are only two, the report said.
Hamas also is reportedly demanding that Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli prisons are released in a first stage, and Hamas prisoners are released in the next steps.
Egyptian sources with knowledge of the discussions told Channel 13 that Israel would not agree to this.
Additionally, Israel is demanding 80 hostages be released, while Hamas is capping the number it is willing to release at 50, the network said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday dismissed “a lot of incorrect reports” in recent days about imminent agreements and said there was no deal “as of now.”
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz said that Israel has “decades” to destroy Hamas but “we don’t have decades to bring the people home… So, yes, from my point of view, it is a priority to get the hostages back.”
“I want to bring back the elderly, and the children. Nobody here wants anything else. Nobody in Israel wants anything else,” Gantz added.
The hostages were taken during Hamas’s shock October 7 invasion of southern Israeli communities, when 3,000 terrorists broke through the border and murdered some 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, slaughtered amid brutal atrocities.
Israel then launched an air and ground offensive with the goal of eliminating the terror group in the Strip.
According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities, 13,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and Hamas has been accused of inflating them. It is not known how many among the total are combatants, and how many among the dead were victims of misfired rockets aimed at Israel.