Israel is currently exploring the possibility of a unique agreement with Hamas, which involves the release of a number of hostages held by the Palestinian militant group in the Gaza Strip. This proposal would require a temporary three-to-five-day cease-fire during the war, allowing aid to be delivered to Gaza. The deal would also prioritize the release of women and children hostages from both sides.
The exact number of hostages to be released remains unknown, but there is a focus on prioritizing children as part of the first group. The aim is to eventually bring back the approximately 240 hostages who were taken during the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants. US President Biden has estimated that there are “somewhere between 50 and 100 hostages” in Gaza. So far, only four captives, two Americans and two Israelis, have been released.
As part of the proposed agreement, there is also potential for the release of Palestinian women and children currently held in Israeli prisons. However, the situation regarding their relocation remains unclear, as the war in Gaza has displaced nearly 1.6 million Palestinians from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Release of Palestinian prisoners has long been a demand of Hamas, and it is only if a final deal is reached that this demand will be incorporated. The number of Palestinian prisoners involved in the agreement is yet to be determined. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has reported 147 minors in Israeli custody as of June.
Negotiations for a hostage release have been ongoing, but various obstacles have hindered progress. Talks have faced challenges as Hamas struggles to locate and provide a full accounting of each hostage. Furthermore, the hostages are spread out across the war zone and held by different groups, making it difficult for Israel to demand a complete tally. The US has been flying unarmed drones over Gaza to aid in locating the hostages, underscoring attempts to improve intelligence capabilities.
Despite the complications, both the US and Israeli governments view the release of the four hostages as a positive step and a potential precedent for future releases. The negotiations have also involved high-profile meetings, including those between CIA Director Bill Burns, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, and Qatari officials in Doha. Qatar, known for its mediation efforts, is playing a critical role in facilitating the negotiations with Hamas.
The issue of hostage diplomacy is notoriously complex, and the ongoing war in Gaza adds an additional layer of difficulty. Nevertheless, the parties involved recognize the gravity of the situation and the need for a swift resolution.