Signs of progress on deal to pause Israel-Gaza fighting, release hostages, say negotiators

There have been large protests in Israel as people call for hostages to be released. Credit: AP

U.S. negotiators are making progress on a potential agreement under which Israel would pause military operations against Hamas in Gaza for two months in exchange for the release of more than 100 hostages who were captured in the October 7 attack on Israel, according to two senior administration officials.

The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, said on Saturday that emerging terms of the yet-to-be sealed deal would play out over two phases.

In the first phase, fighting would stop to allow for the remaining women, elderly and wounded hostages to be released by Hamas.

Israel and Hamas would then aim to work out details during the first 30 days of the pause for a second phase in which Israeli soldiers and civilian men would be released. The emerging deal also calls for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

While the proposed deal would not end the war, U.S. officials are hopeful that such an agreement could lay the groundwork for a durable resolution to the conflict.

Over 25,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas controlled Health Ministry. Credit: AP

The New York Times first reported on Saturday that progress has been made towards an agreement for a pause in fighting in exchange for the remaining hostages.

CIA director Bill Burns is expected to discuss the contours of the emerging agreement when he meets on Sunday in France with David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel for talks centred on the hostage negotiations, according to three people familiar with the scheduled meeting who were not authorised to comment publicly.

President Joe Biden on Friday spoke by phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. Calls with both leaders focused on the hostage situation.

“We should not expect any imminent developments," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to continue the offensive until complete victory over Hamas is achieved.

Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure from the families of many hostages who are demanding a deal to win their loved ones’ release.

The Oct. 7 attack killed some 1,200 people in Israel, and Hamas and other militants abducted around 250 people.

Around 100 hostages were freed under a weeklong cease-fire deal in November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Around 130 remain captive, but a number have since been confirmed dead.

Hamas has previously said it will free more captives only in exchange for an end to the war and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

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