Qatar‘s prime minister has sounded an optimistic note that a deal could soon be struck to free a large number of Israeli and foreign hostages held by the Palestinian militant group Hamas after its murderous rampage across southern Israel nearly six weeks ago.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani, who has mediated international talks about the hostages, told reporters in Doha on Sunday there had been “good progress” on a deal.
The agreement, the first of its kind between the warring groups since Israel launched an air and ground retaliatory campaign against Hamas strongholds in the Gaza Strip, would likely set a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting of up to five days to allow dozens of the estimated 240 hostages to be freed, and allow economic and medical aid into the besieged Gaza enclave.
It is expected that the many women and children captured in Hamas‘ raid would be the first to be released, with press reports sayingb as many as 50 hostages may be freed. Palestinian sources said a second, more ambitious deal being discussed would involve the freeing of nearly 90 hostages in exchange for the release of some Palestinians held by Israel and a shipment of fuel into Gaza.
Many Israeli soldiers and a sizable contingent of foreign nationals are also among the hostages. Hamas has said it hoped to capture Israeli citizens and soldiers as bargaining chips for the large number of Palestinian militants held in Israeli jails.
The Qatari prime minister, appearing with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, did not give a date on when a deal could be struck, but signaled progress had been made.
“The challenges facing the agreement are just practical and logistical,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “There has been good progress in the past few days.”
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said over the weekend that a final deal still had not been struck, but Mr. Netanyahu is under growing pressure at home to rescue the hostages and under growing pressure abroad as Israel‘s military advances lead to rising misery and civilian casualties inside Gaza.
President Biden on Friday called Qatari leader Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to check on the state of the talks and press for the release of all the hostages held by Hamas.
Qatar has emerged as the center of diplomatic efforts to end the war because it has good relations with Washington and the West, but also has ties to the Palestinian militant group, which Israel, the U.S. and many Western countries consider a terrorist organization.
The original Hamas raid killed more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign citizens, the bulk of whom were civilians. Israel‘s counterattacks have killed more than 11,000 people in Gaza and the larger Palestinian West Bank territory, according to Palestinian sources.
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