Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
A woman holds portraits of hostages Erez Kalderon, 12, and children of the Goldstein Almog family as protesters gather outside the Unicef offices in Tel Aviv on November 20, 2023 to demand the release of the detained Israelis hostages in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants, amid ongoing fighting between Israel and the Palestinian armed group. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)
Israel, Hamas and the United States are close to reaching an agreement that could be announced as early as Tuesday. for Hamas to release 50 women and children hostages that the militant group took during the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, in exchange for a four-to-five-day break in fighting and three Palestinian prisoners in prisons Israelis for each hostage released, according to sources close to the negotiations.
The agreement could be announced as early as Tuesday, two Israeli sources said. U.S. officials close to the negotiations stressed that even if the deal is not reached, they are increasingly optimistic that the many weeks of difficult work are about to be rewarded with the release of the hostages.
“It’s very close,” a senior US official told CNN.
Israel’s war cabinet will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET), followed by the security cabinet at 12 p.m. and the government an hour later, “in light of developments on the issue of hostage release “, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced this on Tuesday.
“We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying more, even at this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon,” Netanyahu said during his meeting with the reservists on Tuesday.
A deal would result in the first lasting pause in fighting and a major measure of de-escalation by Israel since the war began.
The hostages to be released are of different nationalities, according to the close source, who said the Americans hope that one of them will be Abigail Edan, a 3-year-old girl – the youngest American hostage – whose parents have were killed by Hamas. It was not immediately clear how many additional U.S. citizens — if any — would be among the 50 hostages that Hamas would initially release as part of the deal.
During the days when fighting is halted, Israel will stop flying surveillance drones over northern Gaza for at least six hours each day, a person familiar with the talks said.
Under the terms of the upcoming deal, Hamas would also hold any additional women and children hostage during the pause in fighting – something the group insisted it could not do until a cessation -the sustainable fire was not in place. The temporary ceasefire could be extended beyond this period to allow the release of more hostages.
Hamas also demanded hundreds of trucks of aid, largely fuel, as part of the negotiations. The fuel is essential to the functioning of its military operations and the ventilation of the group’s network of underground tunnels in Gaza.
The deal would come after weeks of painstaking negotiations between Israel, Hamas and the United States, with Qatar playing a major mediator role. Implementation of the deal would not begin immediately and could take at least a day, the person close said, in part because there are legal procedures Israel must follow before releasing Palestinian prisoners. These prisoners should be women and teenagers.
The release of prisoners must be approved by the Israeli government but should not be an obstacle, a source said.
Diplomatic sources and government officials, including U.S. President Joe Biden, have struck a more optimistic tone in recent days about the progress of the negotiations. But the various parties involved also stressed that any agreement could be jeopardized by Hamas and the evolving situation on the ground in Gaza.
On Monday evening, the Hamas leader said in a statement that the parties were “close to reaching a truce agreement.”
This latest push comes just a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war cabinet met with the families of the hostages.
Israel says more than 200 hostages are believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza. Once the women and children have been released, new negotiations aimed at obtaining the release of other categories of hostages should begin.
Senior US officials have been working intensively for several weeks to secure the release of the hostages, with the understanding that a handful of US hostages were taken hostage by Hamas. Biden spoke directly with Netanyahu, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi about the issue.
Senior Biden officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, NSC Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and CIA Director Bill Burns, participated “nearly hourly” in efforts to bring out the Gaza hostages, sources said. McGurk recently traveled to the Middle East on a multi-country trip largely aimed at making progress in freeing the hostages.
This story has been updated with additional information.