Israel and Hamas are close to reaching a truce deal, the terror group’s chief has claimed, raising hopes that hostages being held inside Gaza could be released.
Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement issued this morning that Hamas has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, who are understood to be working on the agreement.
The statement gave no more details, but a Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations were centred on the length of the truce, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
Both sides would free women and children and details will be announced by Qatar, said the official, named as by the news outlet Issat el Reshiq.
There was no immediate response from Israel on the status of negotiation efforts to secure the release of the estimated 240 hostages seized during Hamas’s horrific assault on October 7, that also saw terrorists kill around 1,200 people. The majority of the hostages are Israeli civilians, some of them young children and elderly people.
Smoke rises after Israeli air strikes in Gaza, as seen from southern Israel, amid the ongoing conflict
Hamas officials are ‘close to reaching a truce agreement’ with Israel and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, Ismail Haniyeh (right) said in a statement. Pictured with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on 31 October
The parents and relatives of children kidnapped on October 7, along with families of hostages and their supporters take part in a demonstration outside the UNICEF headquarters in Tel Aviv yesterday
According to France’s AFP news agency, sources from Hamas and Islamic Jihad – which also participated in the October 7 attacks – have also confirmed that their groups had agreed to the terms of a truce deal.
Under the agreement, between 50 and 100 Israeli civilian and foreign hostages would be released, but no military personnel. In exchange, some 300 Palestinians would be released from Israeli jails, among them women and children.
Talk of an imminent hostage deal has swirled for days.
Reuters reported last week that Qatari mediators were seeking a deal for Hamas and Israel to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire that would boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing an official briefed on the talks.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said on ABC’s ‘This Week’ on Sunday that he hoped for an agreement ‘in the coming days’.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said that the remaining sticking points were ‘very minor.’
US President Joe Biden and other US officials said on Monday a deal was near, but an agreement has appeared close before.
‘Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute,’ White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program on Sunday. ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’
Meanwhile, Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday to ‘advance humanitarian issues’ related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement.
She also met separately with Qatari authorities.
The ICRC said it was not part of the negotiations, but as a neutral intermediary it was ready ‘to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to.’
Hamas’ raid on October 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history, prompted Israel to invade the Palestinian territory to target Hamas.
Since then, Gaza’s Hamas-run government said at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,600 children and 3,550 women, by unrelenting Israeli bombardment.
An agreement could bring some respite for Gazans who have lived for more than six weeks under Israel bombardment and an expanding ground offensive.
Large parts of Gaza have been destroyed by air strikes that have numbered in the thousands, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed to enter.
According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources, the deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza.
Israel has been wary of allowing fuel into the strip for fear it could be used by Hamas in rockets or for other paramilitary means.
Israel has vowed to press ahead with its offensive, pledging to crush Hamas and ensure the hostages are released.
‘We will not stop fighting until we bring our hostages home,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared after meeting relatives of those abducted.
A child injured in the attacks is brought to Nasser Hospital for treatment in Khan Yunis, Gaza, yesterday
Parents and relatives of those kidnapped on October 7 protested in Tel Aviv yesterday
As talks over a truce continued, Hamas said on its Telegram account on Monday that it had launched a barrage of missiles towards Tel Aviv.
Witnesses also reported rockets being fired at central Israel.
Meanwhile, Palestinian news agency WAFA said on Tuesday at least 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza at midnight.
Medics and patients were again caught on the front line on Tuesday, as Israel expanded its operation across the north of the territory.
Officials in the Hamas-run health ministry said Israel struck the Indonesian Hospital on Monday, killing 12 people, before moving in ground forces.
The Hamas government said dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles were deployed around the outskirts of the hospital and were firing towards the facility.
Health officials said 700 patients along with staff were under Israeli fire.
‘The Israeli army is laying siege to the Indonesian Hospital,’ ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.
‘We fear the same thing will happen there as it did in Al-Shifa,’ Qudra added, referring to Gaza’s largest hospital which has been besieged by Israeli troops.
Twenty-eight premature babies were evacuated from Al-Shifa to Egypt on Monday.
Israeli forces seized Shifa last week to search for a tunnel network they said was built by Hamas beneath the hospital. Hundreds of patients, medical staff and displaced people left Shifa at the weekend, with doctors saying they were ejected by troops and Israel saying the departures were voluntary.
The Indonesian Hospital sits on the fringe of Gaza’s largest refugee camp Jabalia, which has become a new focus for the war and has been the scene of intense Israeli bombing in recent days.
WAFA said the facility in the northeast Gaza town of Beit Lahia, funded by Indonesian organisations, had been hit by artillery rounds.
The health ministry official said there still were about 400 patients inside the hospital, as well as 2,000 people seeking shelter.
Around 200 people were evacuated from the hospital on Monday and bussed to the relative safety of a hospital in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
At the Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, an AFP reporter witnessed bloodied children being carried into the facility and lying dazed on gurneys amid the chaos.
‘We miraculously got out,’ said one man who said he escaped the Indonesian Hospital. ‘We still have brothers there. I just can’t…’ he said, his voice trailing off.
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was ‘appalled’ by the attack that he too said had killed 12 people, including patients, citing unspecified reports.
“The world cannot stand silent while these hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair,” the UN’s health organisation said in a statement.
The Israeli Defence Forces said troops had fired back at fighters in the hospital while taking ‘numerous measures to minimise harm’ to non-combatants.
A Palestinian woman is pictured in front of the damage following Israeli strikes on Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, on November 20
Hospital staff have denied there were any armed militants on the premises.
Israel says Hamas uses medical facilities to hide fighters and as the base for operations, making them legitimate military objectives – while insisting it does everything possible to limit harm to civilians.
But international criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war has grown in recent weeks, with protests erupting across the world, international agencies laying allegations of war crimes, and some governments breaking diplomatic ties.
Like all other health facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian Hospital has largely ceased operations but is still sheltering patients, staff and displaced residents.