November 20, 2023 - 9:38 pm
President Joe Biden said Monday that Israel and Hamas are closing in on a deal to free a group of hostages.
“I believe so,” he said when asked if a deal was near. He added that he wasn’t prepared to offer details.
Early Tuesday, the chief of Hamas told Reuters that the Palestinian terrorist group was near a truce agreement with Israel, even as hostilities continued.
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.
Bloomberg News also reported Haniyeh’s statement.
The statement gave no more details, but a Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations were focused on how long the truce would last, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and an exchange of Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Both sides would free women and children and details would be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations, the official, Issat el Reshiq, told Reuters.
Late Monday, a relative of a hostage captured by Hamas said that Israel’s top officials told him and other families of the captives they won’t prioritize their release over defeating Hamas.
Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Chaimi is in captivity in Gaza, was one of several family members of hostages who met with the war cabinet, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“What we’ve heard is that taking down Hamas and bringing the hostages (home) are … equally important,” Goren told reporters after coming out of the meeting in Tel Aviv.
Goren also said the war cabinet — a body set up immediately after the Hamas terrorist attack and made up of Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant, the Minister of Defense and former military chief turned politician, Benny Gantz — did not share any details about any possible deal to release the hostages.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby had indicated Monday that he did not have an update on negotiations to release hostages. But Kirby said that pauses in fighting would be needed for such a release to take place.
Meanwhile, the families of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza tearfully pleaded with Israeli lawmakers not to advance legislation that would permit the death penalty for convicted Palestinian terrorists, including those involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on Israel.
The families, who represent some of the 240 people abducted by Hamas and other terrorists that day, told National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that the legislation risked angering Hamas and putting the lives of their relatives at risk.
“Not now, when the lives of our loved ones are on the line, when the sword is on their necks,” Gil Dikman, whose cousin is believed to be held hostage in Gaza, said Monday during an emotional hearing at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
After the National Security Committee hearing, Ben-Gvir wrote on X, formerly called Twitter, that the legislation is an important tool for increasing pressure on Hamas.
”In the Middle East, you don’t blink, you hit your enemy with every tool and bring them to their knees,” he said.
Ophir Katz, the head of the government coalition and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told reporters that the amendment to the penal code would not come up for a vote until it was vetted by senior Cabinet members and Netanyahu.