UPDATE: The Israeli government voted to accept a deal that would release some hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.
Reports came Tuesday that the Israel and Hamas negotiators were closer to a deal than ever before, but it is not over until the details are worked out rang from Israel to Qatar to Hamas to President Joe Biden to U.S. Department of State.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a series of cabinet meetings Tuesday evening and, where some are hopeful to approve a deal that would result in the release of dozens of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and possibly other terrorists’ groups.
The announcement from the Prime Minister’s office stated that Netanyahu would be gathering ministers “in light of developments on the issue of the release of our hostages.”
This announcement was the first official confirmation from Israel that a deal to release some of the hostages held by Hamas since the Hamas’ terrorist attack inside Gaza.
Two far-right parties were set to vote against the deal, but it was seen likely to be approved by the 38-member full cabinet with a large majority, but as of this publication, it is not over the finish line.
“Nothing is finally until everything is final,” said the U.S. State Department on Tuesday.
Various reports of the deal have indicated that somewhere between 50 and 100 Israeli and foreign hostages would be released, in exchange for a five-day break in the fighting and the release of somewhere between 150 and 300 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Earlier reports have said that Israel was demanding the release of all the children held in Gaza with their mothers as a condition.
The expected deal would be the release of 50 living Israeli citizens, mostly women and children, in groups of 12-13 people per day.
In exchange Israel would release Palestinian women and minors from Israeli prisons and return them to where they used to live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad are in favor of the emerging deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants certain elements of this first deal to include the potential for the ongoing release of all of the hostages held by Hamas and other terrorists’ groups even after the 4-5 day pause, a commitment by Hamas to identify and locate hostages being held by the other terror groups in the Strip, and the refusal to release Palestinian prisoners who have been convicted of murder.
Israel believes Hamas could potentially locate some 30 more Israeli mothers and children beyond the initial 50, and that the halt in fighting could be extended by an extra day for each group of 10 more Israeli hostages located and freed.
Israel would pause its war against Hamas in Gaza when the first group of hostages are released, and resume after this stage with the focus on eliminating Hamas in Gaza.
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday “we are now very close” to reaching a deal: “We could bring some of these hostages home very soon,” he told reporters at the White House.
“But I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done,” he added. “Things are looking good at the moment.”
Minister Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, said Tuesday afternoon that “the entire Israeli society, all its tribes, right and left, are praying for and want the return of our boys and girls home safely. We are doing everything we can to bring them back as fast as possible.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel will need to make “difficult decisions. We are moving step by step toward the total defeat of Hamas and getting closer to bringing the hostages home.”
“We will all have to make difficult, important decisions in the coming days,” he said following an assessment at the IDF Gaza Division base in southern Israel. “There is not a moment throughout this campaign, 45 days, that I don’t think about the hostages.”
IDF chief Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that IDF activity on the ground in Gaza “creates better conditions for the return of the hostages. It deals blows to Hamas, it creates pressure, and we will continue this pressure.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad spoke to AFP, and the tentative agreement would include an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, along with a five-day pause in fighting in Gaza.
But an Israeli government source said that the deal has nothing to do with hostages who are not Israelis, and that other governments may be working on separate deals.
Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, said Tuesday that an agreement could be reached “in the coming hours.” Hamas’s leader in exile, Ismail Haniyeh, also said a deal was close, but similar predictions in recent weeks have proven premature.
Qatar said Tuesday afternoon it was “very optimistic” on a deal to release dozens of hostages.
Majed Al Ansari, the spokesperson for the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on X: “We are working towards an agreement taking place and we are now at the closest point we ever have been in reaching and an agreement. We are very optimistic, we are very hopeful, but we are also very keen for this mediation to succeed in reaching a humanitarian truce.”
Support from Israel’s full cabinet is required to approve any hostage release deal that includes freeing Palestinian prisoners, according to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Moran Kandelshtein-Haina.
In line with a 2014 amendment to the Government Law, the cabinet is required to approve the early release of prisoners. Early release is possible only under tight national security or foreign relations conditions, including the release of Israeli citizen or residents held hostage, or as part of a foreign policy agreement. That notion alone would delay any implementation for 24 hours if the deal included those held in Israeli prisons.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that any deal that included the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails would be “a very, very big mistake.”
Ben Gvir, chair of the Otzma Yehudit party, told Channel 14 that any such swap “will bring us to disaster,” pointing to the 2011 deal to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — including Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who is believed to be the mastermind of the October 7 massacre — in exchange for captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
Both the Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties issued statements Tuesday evening that they opposed the deal and intended to vote against it.
Ben Gvir’s party said in a statement that it believes the deal “would endanger the ground forces fighting in Gaza and undermine the war effort,” as well as “significantly reduce the chances of returning the remaining abductees held by Hamas, including our soldiers.”
The Religious Zionism party said it believes the burgeoning deal is “bad for Israel’s security, bad for the hostages, and bad for the soldiers of the IDF,” adding that it views the only viable option to be “continuing the unceasing military pressure on Hamas until total victory.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid had received a security briefing from the prime minister’s military secretary ahead of the succession of cabinet meetings Tuesday evening.
Family members of many of the hostages met Monday evening with Netanyahu and members of the war cabinet.
Several family members left in the middle of the meeting, fuming over what they said were mixed messages the government has given them regarding the goals of the war.
The families have been organizing protests, rallies, and marches to press the government on securing their loved ones’ release. On Saturday, families of hostages and thousands of their supporters demonstrated in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square in a rally focused in particular on the some 40 children believed held in Gaza.
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