Israel, Hamas and the United States are close to reaching an agreement under which Hamas would release 50 women and children taken hostage during the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, in exchange for a four-year break five days in the fighting and three Palestinian prisoners. Israeli prisons for each hostage released, according to sources close to the negotiations. Palestinian prisoners should also be women and adolescents.
The Israeli cabinet met on Tuesday to review the proposed deal, in a meeting that extended into the early hours of Wednesday local time, following meetings of the war cabinet and security cabinet from the country.
“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.
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.
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, a source told CNN, adding that the Americans hope 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.
The hostages that Hamas initially offered for release are alive, the group says, according to a source close to the talks.
The Israeli government is aiming to release at least 50 hostages as part of Tuesday’s deal – 10 per day for five days – an Israeli government source told CNN. The government would be willing to extend the deal if Hamas was willing to release more hostages.
Hamas had initially demanded that aerial surveillance of Israel be halted for the duration of the multi-day pause in fighting, sources told CNN. During the negotiations, the parties decided that surveillance drones would leave Gaza’s airspace for part of the day. It is within this six-hour window that Hamas is expected to attempt to evacuate the hostages without revealing their location.
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. But Netanyahu also made clear that the war would continue after the break ends.
Speaking before Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israeli security agencies supported the proposed deal.
“They made it clear that not only would the war effort not be compromised, but that this would allow the IDF to prepare for continued fighting,” he said. The efforts of Israeli intelligence services and the security of IDF troops will be maintained, he also said.
Hamas has 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.
A source close to the negotiations said it was hoped that with a hostage deal, significantly more aid would be allowed into Gaza, with stakeholders working towards a target of 400 trucks per day.
The deal would come after weeks of painstaking negotiations between Israel, Hamas and the United States, with Qatar playing a major mediator role. Qatar handed a draft of the hostage deal to the Israelis on Tuesday morning, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majid Al-Ansari told CNN.
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.
The release of the prisoners must be approved by the Israeli government, but this should not be an obstacle, a source said. As cabinet officials met inside the Israel Defense building Tuesday evening to discuss the deal, the families of the hostages gathered outside with banners and drums.
But two far-right Israeli parties, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, later suggested they would not support the government’s planned hostage deal.
The Religious Zionism party, led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, said: “The proposed deal is bad and we must not accept it. This is bad for the security of Israel, for the hostages and for the IDF soldiers,” adding: “The only way to return all the hostages is to continue to exert military pressure on Hamas until it completely capitulates. . National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power party also said it would “find it very difficult to support the deal.”
The statement from both parties suggests that they have not yet seen the full terms of the agreement.
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.
International Committee of the Red Cross officials should be involved in the release process, including possibly verifying the identities of hostages in Gaza and prisoners in Israel who are part of the exchange, and transferring them beyond borders. The Swiss organization has already served as an intermediary in hostage exchanges, notably during the release of two pairs of hostages by Hamas last month.
Gershon Baskin, a well-known Israeli peace activist involved in the 2011 release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas, said the Gaza hostages would likely be transferred in Red Cross vehicles to Egypt, where they would be received by the Egyptian intelligence services. From there, they would likely be taken to Israel in ambulances or buses, Gaskin said.
Once in Israel, the hostages “will most likely receive immediate medical attention,” according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
“We have to assume that many of them need medical attention and are being held in terrible conditions,” Kirby said.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, met the political leader of Hamas in Qatar on Monday, according to the humanitarian organization.
The ICRC is not participating in the negotiations but stands “ready to facilitate any future release agreed by the parties to the conflict,” the organization said.
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.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that Biden was “personally committed to moving the process forward” and had received updates from the U.S. team involved in the negotiations “usually several times per day and intervening when he deemed it appropriate to intervene. personally.”
Netanyahu said he asked Biden for help improving the proposed deal and “indeed, it was improved to include more hostages and at lower cost.”
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 is a developing story and will be updated.