November 18, 2023 - 11:07 am
Updated November 18, 2023 - 8:16 pm
Israel, the United States and Hamas have reached an agreement to free dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza, in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting, the Washington Post reported on Saturday, citing people familiar with the provisions.
The release, which could begin within the next several days, could lead to the first sustained pause in the conflict in Gaza, the sources told the Post.
Hamas must release more hostages in return for a significant increase in aid to Gaza and a pause in fighting, one of the U.S.’s top Middle East envoys said earlier Saturday.
“The surge in humanitarian relief, the surge in fuel, the pause in fighting will come when hostages are released,” said Brett McGurk, who’s President Joe Biden’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
McGurk, speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Manama Dialogue summit, a regional security conference in Bahrain, said the U.S. approach has helped hostage negotiations so far.
Hamas, which the United States, Canada and European Union designate a terrorist organization, swarmed southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking 240 back to Gaza as hostages.
Israel has responded with massive airstrikes and a ground offensive on the enclave, which the Hamas-run government says have killed more than 12,000 people.
Only four of the hostages have been released, including two American citizens. Israel has freed another, while a few are known to have died, according to Hamas and Israeli officials.
Hamas has lost contact with groups assigned to guard some of the hostages, Abu Obaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, said Saturday.
“The fate of the captives and captors is still unknown,” he said in a statement.
Biden spoke to Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on Friday about trying to ensure Hamas terrorists let go of more people. Qatar hosts members of Hamas political leadership and has been key to the hostage negotiations, acting as a mediator along with other Arab countries such as Egypt.
In a Post op-ed article published Saturday, Biden said “my team and I are working hour by hour, doing everything we can to get the hostages released.”
The outline of a deal to release some hostages was put together during weeks of talks in Doha, Qatar, among Israel, the United States and Hamas, indirectly represented by Qatari mediators, Arab and other diplomats told the Post.
Under the terms of a detailed, six-page agreement, all parties to the conflict would freeze combat operations for at least five days while an initial 50 or more hostages are released in smaller batches every 24 hours, the Post reported.
Overhead surveillance would monitor movement on the ground to police the pause, the Post reported.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington told the Post late Saturday that “we are not going to comment” on any aspect of the hostage situation.
More aid has gone into Gaza in recent weeks, mostly food and medicine via the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Fuel was sent in Wednesday for the first time since the conflict erupted.
Israel had been reluctant to allow that, saying Hamas terrorists would use it for military operations. But it has come under more pressure, including from the U.S., as Gaza’s hospitals and water plants run out of fuel for generators.
“The track we have pursued led to the release of two Americans, a mother and a daughter, which was a pilot for what we hope will be a much larger release,” McGurk said at the Bahrain conference. “Such a release of a large number of hostages would result in a significant pause in fighting, a significant pause in fighting and a massive surge of humanitarian relief.”