Hamas leader says deal to release some hostages could come soon

This picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an Israeli strike on the Palestinian territory on Tuesday amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

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John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

This picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an Israeli strike on the Palestinian territory on Tuesday amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

The leader of Hamas’ political wing said Tuesday that the militant group had “delivered its response” to mediators in Qatar and that it was “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel more than six weeks after its Gaza-based fighters launched a massive cross-border attack that killed some 1,200 Israelis and seized around 240 hostages.

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The statement from Doha-based Ismail Haniyeh, posted to social media, follows days of negotiations over a possible deal. Details of the possible deal have yet to be officially released. However, Arab and Israeli media have cited unnamed sources suggesting it would involve a pause in Israel’s strikes in Gaza and the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas freeing some of the hostages it seized during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

President Biden, asked by reporters at the White House on Monday whether a deal was near, responded “I believe so.”

Israel’s Channel 12 on Tuesday quoted an unnamed senior Israeli government official as saying “we are very close to a deal” for at least 50 hostages, but said there are still technical issues to be resolved before such an agreement could be implemented. The television report said the hostages to be released would include children, their mothers and other women.

Nearly 13,000 people in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, have been killed since the war began, according to Palestinian officials.

Public support for a deal in Israel has been building and there have been large demonstrations in support of the hostages, increasing pressure on Netanyahu’s government to win their release.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement late Monday that its president, Mirjana Spoljaric, had met with Haniyeh in Qatar, calling for “the immediate release of hostages.”

“The ICRC is insisting that our teams be allowed to visit the hostages to check on their welfare and deliver medications, and for the hostages to be able to communicate with their families,” the aid group said, adding that as a humanitarian intermediary, it “does not take part in negotiations leading to the release of hostages.”

Meanwhile, fighting continued around a hospital in northern Gaza that was hit by a shell on Monday, killing at least 12 people according to Gaza’s health ministry. NPR was unable to independently verify the casualties at the Indonesian Hospital. Israel’s military says its forces were fired on from within the hospital and that it returned fire, but that “no shells were fired toward the hospital.”

Israel, which insists that hospitals in Gaza are being used by Hamas as covert command posts, has received international criticism for attacks that have hit the medical facilities.

Speaking to NPR, Medhat Abbas, a doctor at the Indonesian Hospital, said about 120 people were evacuated from the facility to Nasser Hospital in the south of Gaza. Gaza’s health ministry says at least 500 wounded people and more than 2,000 displaced Gaza residents remain stranded inside. A spokesman for the ministry says the occupancy at Gaza hospitals has reached 190%.

In a status report on Tuesday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Monday’s attack on the Indonesian Hospital marked the fifth time the facility had been hit since the start of hostilities.

“This health facility is under an electrical power (blackout) due to lack of fuel and it also faces severe shortages of water, essential medicines and supplies.”

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Earlier this week, Israel’s military released video it said proved that Hamas had used Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, as a covert base. Al-Shifa was badly damaged and its electricity cut off during Israeli operations to capture the facility. On Monday, 28 premature newborn babies were evacuated from Al-Shifa and transported to hospitals in Egypt for treatment.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday, the U.N. World Food Program said Gaza’s 2.2 million people are in urgent need of food assistance.

“Existing food systems are collapsing, and to reach those in need, WFP and our partners need increased access and resource like fuel, gas, and connectivity. To make a real impact, we need hostilities to halt.”

Last week, the U.N. World Food Program warned that Gaza was facing widespread hunger as a result of the conflict. “[N]early the entire population is in desperate need of food assistance,” it said in a statement.

“With winter fast approaching, unsafe and overcrowded shelters, and the lack of clean water, civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain said, adding that the needs of Gazans could not be properly met with a single border crossing at Rafah, Egypt.

“The only hope is opening another [crossing], safe passage for humanitarian access to bring life-saving food into Gaza,” McCain said.

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