Hamas and Israel reach 'tentative deal' on new truce and hostage swap

Under the proposed deal, Hamas will release at least 50 hostages and Israel will free 300 Palestinians

Sources said a 'tentative agreement' to pause fighting in Gaza for hostage and detainee swaps was clinched in a meeting on Wednesday in Egypt. AP
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Hamas and Israel have reached a tentative deal on a new truce in Gaza and a prisoner and hostage swap, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The National on Saturday.

They said the arrangement would be similar to one that lasted a week before it collapsed on December 1, when Israel resumed its relentless bombardment of Gaza and shifted its ground offensive to the south of the coastal enclave.

The Egyptian sources said the new deal was reached after a series of meetings between negotiators from Israel, Qatar, Egypt, the US and, indirectly, Hamas in Doha, Ramallah and Cairo.

The tentative agreement, they added, was clinched in a meeting on Wednesday in Egypt in which Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar – Israel's most wanted man – was personally involved, albeit remotely and indirectly.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm on Saturday that new Qatar-mediated negotiations were under way to recover hostages held by Hamas.

If finalised, the new deal will provide for the release from Israeli prisons of 300 Palestinians, including Marwan Barghouti, a senior official of the mainstream Palestinian Fatah faction, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Mr Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence, is popular among Palestinians of all political stripes and his name has sometimes been floated as a possible replacement for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is 88.

Hamas, for its part, will release at least 50 of the estimated 137 hostages it is still holding. Among those to be freed will be six active members of the Israeli military, said the sources.

Like the last deal, also negotiated by the US, Egypt and Qatar, the release of the hostages and prisoners will be staggered and its continuation will depend on both sides sticking to the terms of the deal.

There was no official word immediately available from any of the parties involved in the negotiations that a tentative deal has been reached. The negotiations, like previous rounds, are held behind closed doors.

The sources said the Gaza negotiations will move next week to Europe, possibly to the Norwegian capital Oslo, where the deal would be announced and deliberations will begin on what to do with Gaza after the end of hostilities, or what has become known as “day after” scenarios.

They said some delegates were already in Oslo, but they have no details.

The sources did not give a precise date for the announcement of the new deal, saying only it would be made mid to late next week.

News of a new deal emerged after the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency met Qatar's prime minister in Europe late on Friday, according to Reuters.

The meeting between David Barnea and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was apparently the first between senior officials from Israel and Qatar since the collapse of the last truce.

In another sign of a possible breakthrough, Israeli media said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would convene his security cabinet and deliver a televised statement later on Saturday evening.

The Gaza war, the fifth between Hamas and Israel since 2008, began on October 7 when fighters from Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups went on a rampage in southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages back to Gaza.

Israel responded with a bombardment of the enclave, killing more than 18,700 people, mostly women and children, displacing 1.9 million of the territory's 2.3 million residents and laying waste large swathes of built-up areas, particularly in Gaza city.

The fighting has created a massive humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where food, clean drinking water and health care are in acutely short supply.

On Saturday, Israeli forces bombarded targets across Gaza, including a crowded YMCA building, with dozens of Palestinians reported killed or wounded, despite a renewed US call to scale down the campaign and focus on Hamas leaders.

Israeli officials publicly emphasised that they would continue the war until they eradicate Hamas. Washington appeared to acknowledge disagreement, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying the timing was under “intensive discussion” between the two close allies.

Updated: December 17, 2023, 11:29 AM