DOHA: Negotiations to free hostages seized in Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel are at their “closest point” to a deal and have reached the “final stage,” mediator Qatar said Tuesday.
“We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement,” foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said, adding negotiations have reached a “critical and final stage.”
Qatar has helped broker talks aiming to free some of the 240 hostages in return for a temporary cease-fire, a mediation effort that has so far led to the release of four hostages.
“We are very optimistic, very hopeful,” Al-Ansari told a briefing.
“But we are also very keen for this mediation to succeed in reaching a humanitarian truce,” he said.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians.
Israel has launched a relentless retaliatory bombing campaign and ground offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza, killing more than 13,300 people, two-thirds of them women or children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The United States said Saturday it was still working to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas after the Washington Post reported there was a tentative agreement to free women and children hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting.
Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said all parties would halt combat operations for at least five days while some hostages were to be released in batches.
The White House quickly responded on Saturday evening with a message on X, formerly Twitter, to deny any major breakthrough.
“We have seen a lot of the leaks or the statements here and there but we would prefer to keep our statements until we have a final decision on the agreement,” Al-Ansari said.
Here is what we know:
Early Tuesday, Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a brief statement posted online: “We are close to reaching a deal on a truce.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources said details of the agreement would be announced officially by Qatar and other mediators. “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement,” Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said later Tuesday, adding negotiations were at a “critical and final stage.”
Two sources close to the tentative deal have said that between 50 and 100 civilian hostages would be released, but no military personnel.
In exchange, Israel would release from its prisons 300 Palestinians, among them women and children.
The transfer would span several days, with 10 hostages and 30 Palestinians prisoners released each day.
But the same sources said Israel had insisted that captive soldiers should also be released if they are related to a civilian abductee freed by the militants — despite Hamas objections.
“Qatar and Egypt are currently working with the US administration to resolve that issue,” the sources said, adding that only then would a date for a truce be announced.
According to the same sources, the deal includes a “complete cease-fire” on the ground for five days, with Israel allowed to fly sorties over northern Gaza for 18 hours a day.
The deal also provides for between 100 and 300 trucks of food and medical aid, as well as fuel, to enter Gaza, the sources said.