Gaza/Jerusalem: The leader of Hamas said on Tuesday a truce deal with Israel was close and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped for good news soon about hostages, the most optimistic signals so far of a deal to pause the war in Gaza and free captives.
Hamas officials were "close to reaching a truce agreement" with Israel and the group had 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.
Later on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters that an accord to release some of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas was very near. "My team is in the region shuttling between capitals. We're now very close, very close, to bringing some of these hostages home very soon," he said.
“But I don't want to get into the details because nothing is done until it's done,”.
Netanyahu summoned his war cabinet amid growing signs of a deal to free a number of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas militants to Gaza after their deadly cross-border raid into Israel on Oct. 7, which triggered the war.
A source familiar with the negotiations said Hamas would free 50 women and children, including some foreigners, while Israel releases 150 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women and minors, during a four-day ceasefire.
A U.S. official briefed on the discussions facilitated by Qatar gave the same figures for releases by each side, saying the 50 hostages to be freed would be mostly women and children, with fighting paused for four or five days.
There is a tentative deal but it is not final until everything is agreed upon, the official said.
“We believe we are very, very close to having a deal,” the official told Reuters. “There is still a lot of work to be done, still approval that has to be achieved. but we believe we are very close,”.
It would be the first truce of the six-week-old war and the first mass release of those held by both sides.
Hamas' Oct. 7 rampage into Israeli communities near Gaza killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies. In Israel's subsequent aerial blitz and invasion of Gaza, the enclave's Hamas-run government says at least 13,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed including at least 5,600 children.
A Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV earlier 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, said the official, Issat el Reshiq.
Israel's Channel 12 and Channel 13 TV stations both quoted unidentified officials as saying terms of a deal could be reached "within hours".
Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, met Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday to "advance humanitarian issues" related to the war, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement. She also separately met Qatari authorities.
The ICRC said it was not part of hostage negotiations but as a neutral intermediary it was ready "to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to".
RAIN AND COLD WORSEN CONDITIONS
The Hamas incursion on Oct. 7, the deadliest day in Israel's 75-year-old history, prompted Israel to invade Gaza to try to annihilate the militant group that has ruled there since 2007.
Around two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million people have since been made homeless, with thousands a day still trekking south on foot with belongings and children in their arms. The central and southern parts of the enclave, where Israel has told them to go, have also regularly come under attack.
A day and a night of rain and cold winter weather worsened the dire conditions in the Gaza Strip for the displaced, many thousands of whom are sleeping rough or in makeshift tents.
Gaza health authorities said on Tuesday at least 20 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat refugee 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 wetlands that bisect the narrow, coastal strip and has been the arrival point for huge numbers escaping the fighting concentrated in the urbanised north.
Israeli bombing in southern areas leaves Gazans fearing they have no place safe to go. Neighbouring Egypt has allowed the evacuation of some wounded and foreign passport holders, but says it will not accept a forced, mass exodus.
Despite an Israeli order to flee, tens of thousands of civilians are believed to remain in north Gaza - wide swathes of which Israel says its forces now control but where Hamas militants, deeply embedded within the population, are waging guerrilla-style war in fiercely contested pockets.
All hospitals in the north have ceased functioning normally, many still housing patients and displaced Gazans. Israel says Hamas uses hospitals as cover for its combatants, which Hamas and the hospitals deny.
The World Health Organization said it was working on plans to evacuate three Northern Gaza hospitals: Al Shifa, Al Ahli and the Indonesian Hospital, lamenting this as a last resort.
Issam Nabhan, head of the nursing department of the Indonesian Hospital, where the WHO and Gaza authorities say 12 people were killed on Monday by Israeli fire, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday there were 60 bodies in the grounds.
“There is no oxygen to supply the patients. All those on artificial respiration have died. We speak out to the free world. The Indonesian hospital has become a cemetery, not a hospital,”.
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