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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel and Hamas suggest they are close to a hostage deal


Doris Liber wipes away tears after speaking about her son Guy Iluz, 26, to members of Congress in Washington on Nov. 7, 2023.

By Patrick Kingsley and Michael D. Shear


Israel and Hamas appeared on Tuesday to be edging close to a deal that would allow the release of some captives held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for some Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during what would be a brief pause in the 46-day war.


The Israeli government announced Tuesday afternoon that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would hold an unusually intense sequence of meetings with Cabinet ministers in the coming hours “in light of developments on the issue of the release of our hostages.”


President Joe Biden echoed that optimism in brief remarks Tuesday morning.


“We’re now very close, very close,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “We could bring some of these hostages home very soon. I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done. And when we have more to say we will. But things are looking good at the moment.”


An Israeli official, speaking anonymously in order to discuss a sensitive matter, said the ministers were expected to vote on whether to approve a brief cease-fire that would allow for an exchange.


Netanyahu, speaking with troops on Israel’s northern border, said Israel was making progress in the hostage negotiations. “I hope we will have good news soon,” he said.


If a deal is approved Tuesday, the hostages may not be released until Thursday to allow for a 24-hour period for judicial review, Israeli officials said.


Earlier Tuesday, Ismail Haniya, Hamas’ Qatar-based political leader, told the Reuters news agency that the armed group was “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel.


On Tuesday evening, Israel sent another signal that a deal was close. The director-general of the prime minister’s office, Yossi Shelley, convened a meeting of senior civil servants following “developments on the issue of the release of our hostages,” according to a government statement.


Two far-right parties in the ruling coalition have said in statements that they oppose the deal under discussion because it is not expected to secure the release of all the roughly 240 hostages in Gaza. But the deal can still pass without the parties’ support.


Hamas and its allies in Gaza captured roughly 240 hostages during their raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which also killed an estimated 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials. Israel has responded with thousands of airstrikes and invaded Gaza with ground forces, killing roughly 13,000 people in the fighting, according to health officials in the Hamas-controlled territory.


The Israeli government has vowed to destroy Hamas, but it has also come under domestic pressure to free the hostages. A brief cease-fire could allow Israel to achieve part of the latter objective before returning to the former.


People familiar with the hostage negotiations, which have been brokered mainly by Qatar, say they centered on Hamas releasing roughly 50 children and women, in exchange for about 150 Palestinian women and teenagers jailed by Israel, as well as a pause in fighting that would last about five days.


A national security official at the White House said Tuesday that a deal to secure the release of some of the hostages in Gaza is closer than it has ever been since the attacks by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Another U.S. official also said a deal could come together Tuesday.


A spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, Majed al-Ansari, told reporters that the talks were “at the closest point we ever have been in reaching an agreement.”


“We are very optimistic, we are very hopeful, but we are also very keen for this mediation to succeed in reaching a humanitarian truce,” he said.

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