Israel–Hamas Hostage Deal Edges Closer Despite Fierce Fighting in Gaza
A handout image shows what the Israeli army says is a soldier operating in a location given as Gaza, amid the ongoing ground operation of the Israeli army against the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, released on November 19, 2023. Israeli Army/Handout via JP
GAZA/JERUSALEM—U.S. and Israeli officials said a deal to free some of the hostages held in Gaza was edging closer.
About 240 hostages were taken during Hamas terrorists’ deadly cross-border rampage into Israel on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to invade the territory to wipe out the terrorist group.
Israeli tanks and troops stormed into Gaza late last month and have since wrested control of large areas of the north and northwest and east around Gaza City, the Israeli military says.
But Hamas and local witnesses say terrorists are waging guerrilla-style war in pockets of the densely urbanized north, including parts of Gaza City and the sprawling Jabalia and Beach refugee camps.
Even as fighting raged on the ground, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that Israel was hopeful a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas “in coming days.”
JP reported on Nov. 15 that Qatari mediators had been seeking a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire that would help boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing an official briefed on the talks.
At the time, the official said general outlines had been agreed but Israel was still negotiating details.
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters on Sunday he was not in a position to say when the hostages might be out. “I want to make sure they’re out and then I’ll tell you,” he said upon arrival at a pre-Thanksgiving holiday event in Virginia with U.S. military personnel.
On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main obstacles to a deal were now “very minor,” with mainly “practical and logistical” issues remaining.
A White House official also said the “very complicated, very sensitive” negotiations were making progress.
The talks coincided with Israel preparing to expand its offensive against the Hamas terrorist group to Gaza’s southern half, signaled by increasing air strikes on targets Israel sees as lairs of armed terrorists.
However, Israel’s main ally the United States cautioned it on Sunday not to embark on combat operations in the south until military planners have taken into account the safety of Palestinian civilians.
Via social media in Arabic, Israel’s military on Sunday urged residents of several Jabalia neighborhoods to evacuate south “to preserve your safety” and to that end said it would pause military action from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Around 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed in Hamas’s shock Oct. 7 assault, according to Israeli tallies, the deadliest day in the country’s 75-year history.
A total of 64 Israeli soldiers have died in the conflict, according to the latest army count.
Gaza’s Biggest Hospital
The Israeli army says Hamas uses residential and other civilian buildings as cover for command centers, weapons caches, rocket launchpads, and a vast underground tunnel network. The Hamas terrorist group denies using human shields to wage war.
A team led by the World Health Organization that visited Al Shifa, Gaza’s biggest hospital, on Saturday described it as a “death zone”, days after advancing Israeli forces seized the premises to root out an alleged underground Hamas command center.
The WHO team reported signs of gunfire and shelling and a mass grave at Al Shifa’s entrance, and said it was making plans for the immediate evacuation of 291 remaining patients, including the war-wounded, and 25 staff.
Israeli military issued a statement on Sunday in response saying it was conducting “a precise operation to uncover terror infrastructure” at the hospital.
On Sunday, 31 premature babies were evacuated from Al Shifa in a joint operation by the United Nations and Palestinian Red Crescent to be taken over the Rafah border crossing for hospitalization in Egypt, Gaza’s health ministry said.
Eight premature babies previously died at Al Shifa for lack of electricity and medication crucial to care, it said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 48 journalists and media workers have been confirmed killed in the region since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, including the head of a prominent media institution in Gaza and two other journalists.
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