Tentative Gaza deal reached to free some hostages, pause fighting

Israel, the United States and Hamas have reached a tentative 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, citing people familiar with the deal.

However, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. officials said no deal had been reached yet.
The hostage release could begin within the next several days, barring last-minute hitches, according to people familiar with the detailed, six-page agreement, the paper said on Saturday.
The report comes as Israel appears to be preparing to expand its offensive against Hamas militants to southern Gaza after air strikes killed dozens of Palestinians, including civilians reported to be sheltering at two schools.
Under the agreement, all parties would freeze combat operations for at least five days while 50 or more hostages are released in groups every 24 hours, the Post reported. Hamas took about 240 hostages during its Oct. 7 rampage inside Israel that killed 1,200 people.
The pause also is intended to allow a significant amount of humanitarian aid in, the newspaper said, adding the outline for the deal was put together during weeks of talks in Qatar.
But Netanyahu told a press conference on Saturday evening: "Concerning the hostages, there are many unsubstantiated rumours, many incorrect reports. I would like to make it clear: As of now, there has been no deal. But I want to promise: When there is something to say – we will report to you about it."
A White House spokesperson also said Israel and Hamas have not yet reached a deal on a temporary ceasefire, adding the U.S. is continuing to work to get a deal. A second U.S. official also said no deal had been reached.

US President Joe Biden’s main adviser on the Middle East said Saturday there would be a “significant pause” in the Israel-Hamas war if hostages held by militants in Gaza are freed.
Hamas militants seized about 240 hostages on October 7 when they surged across Gaza’s militarised border into southern Israel to kill around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.
In response, Israel is carrying out a relentless bombardment and ground offensive of targets in the Gaza Strip which has so far killed 12,300 people, according to the Palestinian territory’s Hamas government.
“The surge in humanitarian relief, the surge in fuel, the pause... will come when hostages are released,” Brett McGurk told a security conference in Bahrain.
Release of a large number of hostages would result in “a significant pause... and a massive surge of humanitarian relief,” he said.
McGurk said Biden had discussed the issue on Friday evening with the ruler of the Gulf nation of Qatar, which is leading mediation efforts toward a cease-fire and release of the captives.
The White House said Biden and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani discussed “the urgent need for all hostages held by Hamas to be released without further delay.”
Two days earlier Biden had said he was “mildly hopeful” of reaching a deal to free the hostages, believed to include about 10 US citizens.
French President Emmanuel Macron also discussed the hostages with Al-Thani and Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Saturday, his office said.
Macron said immediately freeing the captives, of whom eight are French, was “an absolute priority for France.”
The three leaders also talked about strengthening their coordination to deliver aid to civilians in Gaza, Macron’s office said.
So far efforts by Qatar have led to the release of four of the captives. A fifth hostage, a soldier, was rescued in an Israeli operation.
Israel’s army said this week it had recovered the bodies of two women hostages in Gaza.

McGurk said on Saturday that the situation in the besieged Palestinian territory was “horrific” and “intolerable.”
Israel has refused to heed calls for a cease-fire before all the hostages are released.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who also attended the Bahrain conference, said it was “unacceptable” to link humanitarian pauses to release of hostages.
Meanwhile EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reflected on the future of Gaza, saying, “Hamas cannot be in control of Gaza anymore.”
The Palestinian Authority, based in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, “told me they are ready and willing to take this responsibility” with the help of the international community, said Borrell.
He added that Arab countries should also play a role in any future configuration, both political and economic, for Gaza.
Safadi insisted there would be “no Arab troops” deployed in Gaza.

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