The chief of Hamas has said that the Palestinian militant group was near a truce agreement with Israel, even as the deadly assault on Gaza continued and rockets were being fired into Israel.
Hamas officials are “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement sent to Reuters by his aide.
The statement gave no more details, but a Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations were centred on how long the truce would last, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and the exchange of Israeli hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Both sides would free women and children and details will be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations, said the official, Issat el Reshiq.
US President Joe Biden said yesterday he believed an accord was near.
“We’re closer now than we’ve been before,” White House spokesman John Kirby said of an agreement aimed at securing the release of some hostages held in Gaza and a pause in the fighting that would allow much-needed aid into the besieged enclave.
Hamas took about 240 hostages during its 7 October attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people.
Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met in Qatar yesterday with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to “advance humanitarian issues” related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement. She also met separately with Qatari authorities.
The organisation said it was not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages. But as a neutral intermediary it was ready “to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to,” it said.
Talk of an imminent hostage deal has been swirling for days.
Reuters reported last week that Qatari mediators had been seeking a deal for Hamas and Israel to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire that would boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing an official briefed on the talks.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that he hoped for an agreement “in the coming days” while Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said that the remaining sticking points were “very minor”.
The Washington Post on Saturday reported a deal had been agreed but the White House and Israel denied that.
The two sides have appeared close before.
“We really need to adhere to the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” programme on Sunday.
“Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute,” Mr Finer added.