Israeli government meeting to decide on Hamas hostage deal, short-term cease-fire in Gaza

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with his government about a proposed deal for the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas, after convening his war cabinet to discuss it following recent progress in the negotiations

Netanyahu did not confirm details of the proposal, but said it has the support of all Israeli security agencies. He said President Biden had joined the effort to improve the outline of the deal.

The proposed deal, CBS News has confirmed, would allow for an initial group of 50 hostages held by Hamas to be released in phases during pauses in the fighting in Gaza. The proposed deal, brokered by the U.S. and Qatar, will include a limited six-hour pause in the fighting for four days, according to sources familiar with the agreement. During the six-hour pauses, overheard surveillance will be halted. 

“In recent days, I have spoken with our friend, U.S. President Joe Biden, and I requested his intervention in order to improve the outline that will be presented to you,” Netanyahu said in a statement before the government meeting. “Indeed, it has been improved to include more hostages and at a lower cost. These talks have been productive. President Biden joined in the effort and I thank him for it.”

Netanyahu said the decision before his government “is a difficult decision but it is the correct decision,” adding that “the security of our forces will be ensured during the pause and that the intelligence effort will be maintained in those days.” 

During this time, aid will be allowed into Gaza, with 300 trucks per day carrying aid, including cooking oil for bakeries and fuel for hospitals, a source familiar told CBS News. 

The deal will allow for the release of Palestinian prisoners — women and children — held in Israel detention centers, with three Palestinian prisoners released for each hostage held by Hamas, CBS News has confirmed. That 3-to-1 ratio is notable because there is no cap on potential prisoner releases. In other words, the more hostages Hamas finds and releases, the more Palestinians will be set free from prison. 

If the first phase goes as planned, roughly 20 more hostages will be released by Hamas and the pause in fighting extended. 

Children, of whom there are believed to be around 40 among the hostages in Gaza, were to be prioritized in the first wave of captives released by Hamas. The only American child taken by Hamas is a 3-year-old girl. 

Sources told CBS News that the deal was expected to see at least 75 hostages, and potentially even more, freed by Hamas in installments.

“We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not at even this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon,” Netanyahu told reservists Tuesday, without providing further details.

Tel-Aviv-to-Jerusalem march by families of hostages held by Hamas
Families of hostages held by Hamas lead a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ending at a rally in front of the Knesset, on Nov. 18, 2023. Some 30,000 people joined the last portion of the 5-day march.

TAMAR SHEMESH/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

The terms of the agreement have still not officially been confirmed by Israel. 

Netanyahu stressed in his statement that the short pauses would not mean an end to the war. 

“There is a lot of nonsense out there to the effect that after the pause to return our hostages, we will stop the war. Then let me make it clear: We are at war — and will continue the war,” he said. “We will continue the war until we achieve all of our war aims: To eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and our missing, and ensure that there is no element in Gaza that threatens Israel.”

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu’s office announced that, “in light of the developments regarding the release of our abductees,” he would convene his war cabinet, followed by meetings of the political-security cabinet and the full government Tuesday evening local time.

Israel’s Supreme Court would also need to sign off on any deal involving the release of Palestinian prisoners, but the court can essentially waive its approval and refer the decision back to the government.

If the agreement is finalized, an operation center is expected to be set up in Doha, Qatar, to monitor the transfers. The neutral Red Crescent, part of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is expected to then take custody of the hostages from Hamas and then hand them over to the Israel Defense Forces.

Officials with knowledge of the negotiations, including President Biden, have said for days that an agreement looked increasingly close. 

“We’ve been working on this intensively for weeks, as you all know,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday at the White House. “We’re now very close, very close. We could bring some of these hostages home very soon. But I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done. And when we have more to say, we will, but things are looking good at the moment.”

The details of the long-sought hostage release agreement and short-term cease-fire were still coming to light Tuesday ahead of the Israeli government meetings.

A senior Hamas member told CBS News that the agreement was for the group — long designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel — to hand over 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, or three Hamas prisoners freed for every abducted person released by Hamas. But there is no set cap on the number of prisoners to be released. 

A source familiar with the talks told CBS News that those numbers were not limits, and that the potential cease-fire could be extended if Hamas continues releasing Israeli hostages, and more Palestinian prisoners could also be released.

The source said most of the Palestinian prisoners would be released to live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, though some did come from Gaza.

Israel has said that Hamas militants took about 240 hostages during their Oct. 7 rampage across southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed. Only four hostages have been released by the group so far, and another, an Israeli soldier, was rescued by her fellow troops in Gaza. Israel also said two hostages were found dead near the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza last week.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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