- A US official said it was the “closest we’ve been” to a hostage deal.
- A Hamas official told al-Jazeera TV that negotiations were centred on how long the truce would last.
- Both sides would free women and children and details would be announced by Qatar, a Hamas official said.
The leader of Hamas says a truce agreement with Israel is close and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes for good news soon about hostages, the most optimistic signals so far of a deal to pause fighting and free captives.
Hamas officials were “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement sent to Reuters by his aide.
Netanyahu said: “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,” according to remarks released by the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Netanyahu would convene his war cabinet on Tuesday “in light of developments in the matter of the release of our hostages,” his office said, followed by meetings of his wider security cabinet and the full cabinet.
A source briefed on the negotiations told Reuters the long-awaited agreement, which would include the first truce of the war and the first mass release of those held by both sides, was in its “final stages” and “closer than it has ever been”.
That was echoed by a US official who said it was the “closest we’ve been” to a hostage deal.
The deal, as described by the first source, envisages the release of about 50 civilian hostages by Hamas and of female and minor-aged Palestinian detainees from Israeli custody as well as a multi-day pause in fighting.
A Hamas official told al-Jazeera TV that negotiations were centred on how long the truce would last, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and details of the exchange of captives.
Both sides would free women and children and details would be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations, Hamas official Issat el Reshiq said.
Israel’s Channel 12 and Channel 13 TV stations both quoted unidentified officials as saying terms of a deal could be reached “within hours”.
The chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, pictured in 2018. He told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that the Palestinian militant group was near a truce agreement with Israel. Source: AAP, EPA / Mohammed Saber
Israel has bombarded Gaza since Hamas’ 7 October attack in which more than 1,200 people were killed, according to the Israeli government, and over 200 hostages taken.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes “there will be good news soon” on hostages.
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 separately met Qatari authorities.
The ICRC said it was not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages but as a neutral intermediary it was ready “to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to”.
More than 13,300 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Israeli soldiers work on armoured military vehicles along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, on Monday. Source: AAP, AP / Ohad Zwigenberg
Hospitals at risk
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said on Tuesday at least 20 Palestinians were killed in Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza at midnight.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
The already crowded Nuseirat district, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, is just south of the wetlands that bisect the strip and has been the arrival point for huge numbers escaping the fighting further north.
Bombing in southern areas leaves Gazans fearing they have no place safe to go.
Twenty-eight prematurely born babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital, al-Shifa, were taken into Egypt for urgent treatment on Monday. Source: Getty / AFP
Neighbouring Egypt has allowed the relocation of some wounded and foreign passport holders but says it will not accept a mass exodus.
“Continued bombing targeting displaced people in the South has a clear objective, and that is to force Gaza’s residents to leave the Strip,” Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman said on X.
“Egypt has clearly declared its utter rejection of any enforced displacement attempt of Palestinians.”
, which has gained power in the Gaza Strip since winning legislative elections there in 2006. Its stated aim is to establish a Palestinian state, while refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas, in its entirety, is designated as a terrorist organisation by countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the US. New Zealand and Paraguay list only its military wing as a terrorist group. In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly voted against a resolution condemning Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.