Israel and Hamas appear close to hostage deal, officials say | ET REALITY

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Israel believes Wednesday’s attack on Al-Shifa hospital will put pressure on Hamas to close a deal to exchange dozens of Israeli captives for Palestinian prisoners, according to two senior Israeli officials.

Negotiations for an agreement are underway and the various actors are working on a framework agreement, according to the two Israeli officials involved in the Israeli effort to free the hostages through an agreement, as well as a third with knowledge of the matter. . affair. Under the proposal, Hamas would release 50 women and children kidnapped during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks for roughly the same number of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons.

The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, as did two other Israeli officials who discussed the hostage negotiations.

The deal, which is being negotiated by Qatari, Egyptian and American officials, would also include a cessation of hostilities for several days, the so-called humanitarian pause, four of the officials said.

Hamas confirmed the outlines of this agreement on Tuesday, but blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for delaying it.

“We want their children returned,” Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan told reporters Tuesday in Beirut, “but those who are obstructing them are Netanyahu and his war government.”

In addition to the approximately 1,200 people killed in the Oct. 7 attack, 240 hostages were also taken to Gaza, according to Israeli officials. After the attack, Israel declared war on Hamas, which health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza say has led to more than 10,000 deaths. Freeing the hostages – and ensuring their survival during the war – is one of Israel’s stated objectives, but also one of its most tactically difficult and politically tense challenges.

Despite both sides’ movement toward a deal, Netanyahu must first present the proposal to his government for a vote.

Until the prisoner exchange actually takes place, the situation will remain fluid. The exchange could be thwarted by Israel’s hard-line government that does not want to make any deal with Hamas or wants Israel to guarantee the release of more hostages.

The deal was being hammered out by officials in the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar, which has hosted Hamas political leaders in exile for years. The United States and Israel have long used Qatar as an intermediary to send messages to Hamas and coordinate aid efforts in Gaza.

Hamas is willing to release at least 50 women and children, two of the officials said. Israel, they said, believes the total number of women and children held by Hamas is approaching 100 and is pushing for more hostages to be released under the deal, although so far without success.

Two of the Israeli officials said that Hamas has not provided the names of the hostages it is willing to exchange, but that the sides have agreed that members of the same family will not be separated.

Under the proposal, some of the exchanges, they added, would take place at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, the only functional entrance to the enclave and the site through which Israel has allowed foreign aid to enter the strip.

An earlier deal proposal that would have seen the release of 50 hostages in exchange for a temporary ceasefire was derailed last month, at least in part, by Israel’s decision to send ground troops to Gaza after weeks of airstrikes. But Israel believes that by taking Shifa, which it says Hamas uses as a military command center and its patients as human shields, the militant group is deprived of a key asset and more inclined to trade hostages, according to officials. Hamas and hospital officials deny its use as a military facility.

Hamas previously released a small number of hostages in two rounds last month: an American mother and her daughter who also have Israeli citizenship, and later two elderly Israeli women.

Hwaida Saad Contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

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