In a significant development amid ongoing hostilities, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh announced that a truce agreement with Israel is within reach. This comes as the conflict continues to escalate, with rockets being fired into Israel and a relentless assault on Gaza.
According to Haniyeh's statement, relayed to Reuters by his aide, Hamas is nearing an agreement with Israel. A source familiar with the negotiations revealed to Reuters that the deal is in its final stages and is closer than ever. The proposed truce includes the release of approximately 50 civilian hostages held by Hamas and the release of female and minor-aged Palestinian detainees from Israeli custody.
Further details indicate a multi-day pause in fighting as part of the agreement. Issat el Reshiq, a Hamas official, told Al Jazeera TV that discussions are focused on the duration of the truce, arrangements for aid delivery into Gaza, and specifics of the captive exchange. Qatar, which is mediating the negotiations, will announce the details regarding the release of women and children from both sides.
Israeli media, while generally reticent about the Qatar-led talks, cited anonymous officials suggesting that terms of a deal could be finalized within hours. However, no further specifics were provided.
The conflict, which intensified following Hamas's Oct. 7 incursion into Israel that resulted in 1,200 casualties, has led to devastating consequences in Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president, Mirjana Spoljaric, met Haniyeh in Qatar to discuss humanitarian issues related to the conflict. Although the ICRC is not directly involved in the hostage negotiations, it has expressed readiness to facilitate any future releases agreed upon by the parties.
Complicating the situation further is the harsh winter weather, exacerbating the dire conditions in Gaza for thousands displaced by the conflict. Recent Israeli strikes in the Nuseirat refugee camp have added to the mounting casualties.
In a parallel development, U.S. officials have indicated that a deal to release hostages and pause fighting is imminent. This arrangement, brokered by the U.S., might see the initiation of hostage releases within hours and include about 150 Palestinian prisoners' release from Israel.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously rejected the idea of a sustained ceasefire, the growing humanitarian crisis and international pressure have heightened the need for a resolution. The Biden administration, while aligning with Israel's stance against a permanent ceasefire fearing it would bolster Hamas, acknowledges the critical situation, especially considering the significant number of hostages in Gaza and the alarming civilian death toll.
As the world watches, the potential truce agreement between Israel and Hamas signals a crucial turning point in a conflict that has caused widespread destruction and loss of life. The intricate details of the negotiation process and the roles of various international actors underscore the complexity and sensitivity of achieving peace in this long-standing conflict.