Hopes for a breakthrough in the war between Israel and Hamas rose last night after sources said a deal on hostages and a ceasefire was “the closest ever”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected “good news soon” on the release of prisoners in Gaza, after weeks of secret talks.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said a truce was “near” and that talks, brokered by Gulf state Qatar, were entering the “final phase”.
It is the first glimmer of hope in the bloody conflict which began on October 7 and which has cost the lives of 15,000 people, most of them innocent.
If reached, the deal could free up to 50 of the 240 civilians held by Hamas. In exchange, Israel would suspend its ground invasion for up to five days and release detained Palestinians.
Sources close to the negotiations said a number of Palestinian women and children would also be released from prisons.
It could also allow the largest flow of humanitarian aid into the destroyed territory since Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel and massacred around 1,400 people in a dawn carnage seven weeks ago .
Qatari government spokesperson Majed Al Ansari said: “We are now at the closest point we have ever come to reaching an agreement.
“We are very optimistic, we have a lot of hope, but we also hope that this mediation results in a humanitarian truce. »
Israel estimates that at least 240 hostages of 20 nationalities, including 30 children, are being held.
Mr Netanyahu, who convened his war cabinet last night, said: “We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not even at the moment, but I hope there will be some good news soon.”
The United States, which has also held high-level private talks, said it was the “closest time” to a hostage deal. President Joe Biden also said a deal was close.
Among the captives is Emily Hand, a nine-year-old Israeli-Irish girl. It was initially feared that she had been murdered, but is now believed to be hiding in Gaza.
His Dublin-born father Thomas, 63, described the news as a “blessing”.
Earlier, he said: “She must be saying, ‘Where’s my daddy?’ Where is dad ?’. This is what I’m experiencing – it’s a nightmare.
“It’s going to be broken, but we’ll have to fix it.” Can you imagine what this poor little child goes through every day, terrified for her life? Death in my head is an easier option.
The October 7 Hamas raid was the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.
The state declared that the terrorist network would be reduced to “rubble and dust” and immediately cut off food, water and fuel supplies to Gaza. A fierce aerial bombardment followed, then a land invasion.
Israel has also targeted hospitals, saying Hamas uses them as terrorist bases. The Hamas-led Gaza government says at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,600 children.
About two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are homeless, and thousands of them are moving south on foot.
Meanwhile, Israel continues its urban offensive in the Jabaliya refugee camp, a dense warren of concrete buildings near Gaza City that has been deprived of electricity, water and access to humanitarian aid since weeks.
Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters also clashed near the Indonesian hospital. Palestinian health officials said a strike killed 12 people Monday.
Yesterday, Israel struck the town of Beit Lahia, reducing many buildings to rubble. Troops also displayed a stockpile of weapons found at a terrorist’s home and were seen taking blindfolded Palestinian captives out of the Gaza Strip.