WASHINGTON D.C./JERUSALEM/GAZA CITY (The Thursday Times) — Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has indicated that a truce deal with Israel is close, with Israeli sources stating that a deal between the two parties is expected within hours. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed optimism about the release of hostages, signalling potential progress towards ending the conflict in Gaza and freeing captives.
Haniyeh, in a statement, stated that Hamas is nearing an agreement on a truce with Israel. The response from Hamas has been handed to Qatari mediators, pointing towards a potential pause in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Netanyahu, in a cautiously optimistic tone, hinted at progress, saying, “We are making progress…but I hope there will be good news soon.”
Further bolstering these prospects, U.S. President Joe Biden informed reporters of the nearness of an accord for releasing hostages held by Hamas. Biden’s team is actively shuttling between capitals to finalise the deal. However, he emphasised the delicacy of the situation, stating, “nothing is done until it’s done.”
The backdrop to these developments is the war triggered by Hamas’ cross-border raid into Israel on October 7, which led to the capture of 240 hostages by Hamas militants. Netanyahu has convened his war cabinet in response to these developments.
A source familiar with the negotiations revealed that Hamas would release 50 women and children, including some foreign nationals, as part of the deal. In return, Israel would free 150 Palestinian prisoners, primarily women and minors, during a four-day ceasefire. A U.S. official confirmed these figures and the terms, indicating a fighting pause of four or five days.
Though the deal is tentative, the U.S. official expressed confidence in its near completion, adding, “We believe we are very, very close to having a deal.”
This truce, if realised, would be the first in the six-week-old war and mark the first mass release of captives by both sides. The war has seen significant casualties, with Israeli counts indicating 1,200 deaths due to Hamas’ initial raid, and Palestinian authorities reporting over 13,300 fatalities, including 5,600 children, from the subsequent Israeli military response.
A Hamas official speaking to a private television channel highlighted the ongoing negotiations on the truce’s duration, aid delivery arrangements into Gaza, and the specifics of the captive exchange. Izzat al-Rishq, a founding member of Hamas’ politburo, confirmed details of the exchange, including the release of women and children by both sides, would be announced by Qatar.
Israeli media sources suggest that the terms of the deal could be finalised “within hours.” Meanwhile, Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met with Haniyeh in Qatar to discuss humanitarian issues related to the war. The ICRC, while not directly involved in the hostage negotiations, stated its readiness to facilitate any future releases agreed upon by the parties.
However, the deal faces internal opposition within Israel. Two far-right parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, the Religious Zionism Party and the Jewish Power Party, have voiced strong reservations. They advocate for a deal that favours Israeli terms more strongly. The Israeli government, aiming for a staggered release of hostages, contemplates an initial exchange of 10 hostages per day over five days. This approach hinges on Hamas’ willingness to release additional hostages.
In terms of concessions, Israel would reportedly suspend surveillance drone flights over Gaza for several hours daily during the ceasefire. Hamas, for its part, is expected to assemble any additional hostages for release during the pause in hostilities. The group has also demanded a substantial aid package, including fuel crucial for its military operations.