Israeli government debates deal for release of Gaza hostages, truce By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference with defense minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet minister Benny Gantz in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv , Israel , 28 October 2023. ABIR SULTAN POOL/Pool via REUTERS/F
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s government met into the early hours of Wednesday to consider a deal for Palestinian Hamas militants to free some hostages in Gaza in exchange for a multi-day truce and the release of a greater number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Officials from Qatar, which has been mediating negotiations, as well as the U.S., Israel and Hamas have for days been saying a deal was imminent.
Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said the proposal on a hostage release deal was delivered to Israel in the early hours of Tuesday.
“The State of Qatar is awaiting the result of the Israeli government’s vote on the proposal,” he said.
Before gathering with his full government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Tuesday with his war cabinet and wider national security cabinet over the deal. Hamas is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages, taken when its fighters surged into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli prime minister said the intervention of U.S. President Joe Biden had helped to improve the tentative agreement so that it included more hostages and fewer concessions.
But Netanyahu said Israel’s broader mission had not changed.
“We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel,” he said in a recorded message at the start of the latest government meeting.
If agreed, the accord would see the first truce of a war in which Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Hamas-ruled Gaza, killed 13,300 civilians in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless, according to authorities in Gaza.
A U.S. official briefed on the discussions said the deal would include 50 hostages taken from Israel, mostly women and children, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and a pause in the fighting of four or five days.
The pause would also allow for humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Israeli media including Channel 12 news said that if the deal was approved, the first release of hostages was expected on Thursday. Implementing the deal must wait for 24 hours to give Israeli citizens the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the release of Palestinian prisoners, reports said.
Hamas has to date released only four captives: U.S. citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20, citing “humanitarian reasons,” and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct. 23.
The armed wing of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, which participated in the Oct. 7 raid with Hamas, said late on Tuesday that one of the Israeli hostages it has held since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel had died.
“We previously expressed our willingness to release her for humanitarian reasons, but the enemy was stalling and this led to her death,” Al Quds Brigades said on its Telegram channel.
HOSPITAL ORDERED TO EVACUATE
As attention focused on the hostage release deal, fighting on the ground raged on. Mounir Al-Barsh, director-general of Gaza’s health ministry, told Al Jazeera TV that the Israeli military ordered the evacuation of the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza City. Israel said militants were operating from the facility and threatened to act against them within four hours, he said.
Hospitals, including Gaza’s biggest Al Shifa, have been rendered virtually inoperable by the conflict and shortages of critical supplies. Israel claims that Hamas conceals military command posts and fighters within them, a claim that Hamas and hospital staff deny.
On Tuesday, Israel also said its forces had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp, a major urban flashpoint and Hamas militant stronghold.
According to the United Nations, most Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees because they or their ancestors were displaced by the 1948 war of Israel’s creation.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on part of Jabalia, a congested urban extension of Gaza City where Hamas has been battling advancing Israeli armoured forces.
In southern Gaza, Hamas-affiliated media said 10 people were killed and 22 injured by an Israeli air strike on an apartment in the city of Khan Younis.
Reuters could not immediately verify the accounts of fighting on either side.