Israel, Hamas, and the United States are on the verge of releasing significant news regarding a potential deal that could lead to the freedom of 50 women and children held hostage by Hamas. These hostages were taken during the October 7 terror attack on Israel. In exchange for their release, Hamas is requesting a four-to-five day halt in fighting and the release of three Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons for each hostage freed.
While the deal has not yet been finalized, sources familiar with the negotiations indicate that there is growing optimism and belief that the hard work put into the discussions will pay off soon. Two Israeli sources suggest that an announcement could be made as early as Tuesday.
Amidst the promising progress, a senior US official remarked that the deal is “very close.” In response to the developments, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has called for meetings of the war cabinet, security cabinet, and the government to discuss the issue of freeing the hostages.
If an agreement is reached, it would mark a significant de-escalation in the conflict and initiate the first sustained pause in fighting since the war began. The hostages include individuals of various nationalities, including the youngest American hostage, 3-year-old Abigail Edan, whose parents were killed by Hamas. The exact number of American citizens among the initial 50 hostages to be released remains unclear.
As part of the deal, Israel would suspend the use of surveillance drones over northern Gaza for at least six hours a day during the ceasefire period. Additionally, Hamas would be required to release any additional women and children taken hostage during the pause in fighting. The terms of the temporary ceasefire could potentially be extended to free more hostages.
In their negotiations, Hamas has also demanded the delivery of hundreds of trucks of aid, primarily fuel, which is crucial for their military operations and underground tunnel network in Gaza.
The path toward this potential agreement involved weeks of meticulous discussions involving Israel, Hamas, and the United States, with Qatar playing a significant mediating role. However, the implementation of the agreement is not expected to begin immediately. There are legal procedures that Israel must follow before releasing any Palestinian prisoners, who are anticipated to be women and adolescents. Nevertheless, the source indicates that gaining approval from the Israeli government for the release of the prisoners should not pose a hurdle.
Recent days have witnessed a more optimistic tone from diplomatic sources and government officials, including US President Joe Biden, regarding the progress of the talks. However, it is also acknowledged that Hamas or developments on the ground in Gaza could potentially derail any agreement.
Hamas leader’s statement on Monday night suggested that the sides are “close to reaching a truce agreement.” The recent momentum in negotiations coincided with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war cabinet meeting with the families of the hostages.
Israel has estimated that more than 200 hostages are being held by Hamas in Gaza. Once the women and children are released, further negotiations will likely take place to secure the freedom of other categories of hostages.
Senior US officials, including President Joe Biden, have been actively involved in facilitating the release of the hostages for several weeks. Biden has held direct conversations on the matter with Netanyahu, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Notably, the efforts of top Biden officials such as national security adviser Jake Sullivan, NSC Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk, and CIA Director Bill Burns have been focused on ensuring progress in releasing the hostages.
1. How many hostages are Hamas planning to release in the potential deal?
Hamas is expected to free 50 women and children hostages initially.
2. What does Hamas demand as part of the negotiations?
Hamas has requested a temporary ceasefire, the release of three Palestinian prisoners for every hostage freed, and the provision of aid trucks (specifically fuel).
3. Who has been involved in the negotiations?
Israel, Hamas, and the United States have been engaged in the discussions, with Qatar playing a significant role as a mediator.
4. Are the negotiations close to concluding?
There is growing optimism that a deal will be announced soon, but it has not yet been finalized.