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The United States and Qatar said Sunday they were moving closer to an agreement to free a significant number of civilian hostages held by Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Any progress is expected to lead to a several-day pause in the Israeli offensive on Gaza and an increase in emergency aid needed for the coastal enclave which is suffering a worsening humanitarian crisis.
The fate of around 240 hostages has exacerbated Israeli trauma and become a politically sensitive issue for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he continues the offensive against Hamas, while the families of the captives have put pressure on his government to do more to guarantee their freedom. .
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer said Washington believes it is “closer than we have been to reaching a final agreement,” adding that many areas of disagreement that “exist previously been reduced.
The Biden administration and Israel have resisted growing calls for a ceasefire in the war with Hamas, insisting instead that any pause in Israel’s air and ground offensive on Gaza would come only after the Palestinian Islamist group had agreed to release a large number of civilian prisoners captured during its October 7 attack. .
At a press conference Sunday evening, Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari showed what he called “concrete evidence” that Hamas had hidden at least two hostages in the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, where the IDF has concentrated its offensive in recent days.
“The Israeli army has a moral obligation to bring home everyone, every single one of our hostages,” Hagari said. “We won’t rest until we do.”
Talks to secure the release of civilian prisoners are being facilitated with Qatar, a U.S. ally that hosts Hamas’ political office in Doha. Negotiators previously thought they were close to reaching a deal, but negotiations stalled due to disagreements between Israel and Hamas.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told reporters in Doha on Sunday that “there has been good progress in recent days.” He added that minor obstacles remained between Israel and Hamas in reaching an agreement.
Brett McGurk, White House Middle East adviser, said Saturday at a conference in Bahrain that a pause in the Israeli attack on Gaza and an increase in humanitarian aid and fuel to the Strip ” will intervene when the hostages are freed.
Israel has besieged Gaza and its forces have moved deeper into the strip since it launched its offensive after Hamas killed around 1,200 people in its October 7 attack on southern Israel, officials say Israelis.
More than 13,000 people have been killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza, Palestinian officials say, while UN officials have warned of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that is home to 2.3 million people. residents, amid crippling shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine. .
The agreement to secure the release of a large number of civilian hostages held by Hamas would lead Israel to suspend its offensive for several days and allow additional aid to be delivered to the Gaza Strip. Hamas also wants a number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons to be released.
People close to the negotiations said negotiations are progressing, but they remain tentative on the details. These include Hamas’ request for a five-day pause, Israel’s request for a shorter pause and the question of where freed Palestinian prisoners would go, a person briefed on the negotiations said. .
“The mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed really applies, and we don’t have an agreement in place yet,” Finer said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation . “And so until that happens, you know, we’re not going to release all the details publicly.”
Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told ABC’s This Week that he hoped a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas “in the coming days.”