Joe Biden says Hamas-Israel hostage deal ‘very close’ to being done

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Joe Biden said Israel and Hamas were ‘very close’ to a deal that would free dozens of civilian hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a pause in hostilities and the release of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons.

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday morning, Trump said the United States had been “working intensively on this for weeks” and “we are now very close, very close.”

While Biden warned he didn’t want to discuss “details” and that “nothing’s done until it’s done”, he said “things are looking good at the moment” – suggesting that a breakthrough was within reach.

Biden’s optimism about a Qatar-US brokered deal was echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told Israeli troops: “I hope we have some good news soon.”

Israel’s security and war cabinets will meet Tuesday for an unscheduled meeting, followed by a gathering of the entire government that would be required to vote on any potential release of Palestinian prisoners.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based Hamas leader, also issued a brief statement on Telegram, saying the group had “provided its response to the brothers in Qatar and the mediators, and that we are close to reaching an agreement on Truce.”

Qatar is mediating hostage talks that could lead to the release of 50 civilians from the more than 240 people held by Hamas in Gaza since the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

In exchange, Israel would agree to a three-to-five-day pause in hostilities and release up to 150 Palestinian women and children held in its prisons, several people familiar with the negotiations told the Financial Times. The pause could potentially allow an increase in humanitarian aid, which Israel has severely restricted, to the besieged enclave.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which handled logistics for previous releases, also met with Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday.

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Fighting in Gaza has continued, with Israeli troops now operating near the barely functioning Indonesian hospital near the strip’s northern edge. Nearly a dozen people died Monday after an explosion at the hospital, local health authorities said, while Israel said it responded to shooting at its troops from inside the hospital.

The Israeli Defense Forces are also fighting in the eastern neighborhoods of Gaza City. Pockets of Hamas militants remain within the city limits, which Israeli troops have surrounded and entered since their ground invasion began on October 27.

The Israeli army estimates that it has eliminated two battalions of Hamas fighters, while significantly degrading the capabilities of the others, thanks to its incessant aerial bombardments, which protected the advance of its soldiers while destroying more than half of the buildings in the northern Gaza.

Israel has besieged Gaza since the Hamas attack, which Israeli authorities say killed around 1,200 people. Nearly 13,000 people were killed in Israel’s retaliatory bombing and invasion, according to Palestinian officials.

Furthermore, the Israeli army announced that it had released the famous poet Mosab Abu Toha, arrested at a Gaza checkpoint while trying to flee to the south.

Toha has published essays in the New Yorker and the Financial Times since the start of the war, documenting the consequences of Israeli bombing on civilians and his family. He was named a 2022 finalist for the prestigious American National Book Critics Circle Poetry Prize for a collection of poems titled Things you might find hidden from my ear: poems from Gaza.

Toha was arrested with about 200 others at the checkpoint on Monday, a person familiar with the matter said. He was traveling with his infant son, an American citizen, and his wife.

Israel had faced international pressure to explain its detention. The Israeli military said it was acting on intelligence “indicating a number of interactions between several civilians and terrorist organizations inside the Gaza Strip”, but provided no evidence to support its claims. affirmations.

In Lebanon, the official news agency reported a number of Israeli strikes near the border. Two journalists were among the eight people killed, as well as an 80-year-old woman.

Journalist Farah Omar and cameraman Rabih al-Maamari, who worked for the pro-Hizbollah Al Mayadeen news network, were killed in a rocket strike near the town of Teir Harfa. A third civilian was also killed in the same incident.

Archive photo of Lebanese television journalist Farah Omar
Journalist Farah Omar, pictured, and cameraman Rabih al-Maamari, who worked for Al Mayadeen, were killed in a rocket strike near the town of Teir Harfa. © Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

Lebanon and Israel have exchanged fire almost daily since October 7, but the exchanges have recently intensified, raising fears of a regional escalation.

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister blamed Israel for the attack on journalists, saying it was an attempt to “silence the media.” The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident.

Iran-backed Hezbollah said the killing of the journalists “would not go ahead without retaliation”, before launching guided missiles across the border in what it called “its first response”.

Footage taken by another journalist the day after the incident showed the Mayadeen team parked in the garden of a building overlooking the border. In previous live broadcasts, Omar was seen wearing a protective vest marked “press”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom group, said nearly 50 journalists have been killed since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, most of them Palestinians in Gaza. More journalists have been killed in this war than have been killed in the world in 2022.

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