Differences on freeing hostages in Gaza have narrowed, White House says

US officials says negotiations are now the closest they have been since the start of the war

Israeli singer Idan Raichel performs during a rally with the families of hostages demanding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secure their release. Getty Images
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An agreement that would see the release of some hostages held by Hamas in Gaza is the closest it has been since the start of the Israel-Gaza war on October 7, the White House said on Sunday.

US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said some of the issues in the negotiations have “narrowed” in recent days.

“We are closer than we have been in quite some time, maybe closer than we have been since the beginning of this process to getting this deal done,” Mr Finer said.

“Some of the outstanding areas of disagreement in a very complicated, very sensitive negotiation have been narrowed,” he said. He did warn that any potential deal could still fall apart with minimal notice.

“We really need to adhere to the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he said.

About 240 hostages, including at least nine US citizens, are believed to have been held hostage in Gaza since October 7, when gunmen from Hamas attacked Israel and killed about 1,200 people.

Israel retaliated with air strikes and an unprecedented ground invasion of Gaza that has killed more than 12,000 people, the majority of them women and children.

Israel says it wants to eradicate Hamas, and that no ceasefire can be agreed upon until all hostages are released.

The negotiations come as Israel has been expanding its ground operation in Gaza, which has included striking and taking over the enclave's main hospital Al Shifa.

“It is not our position … to play real-time judge and jury on the question of any particular incident,” Mr Finer said when asked whether the US believed Israel was adhering to international law.

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that Israel, the US and Hamas were close to reaching an agreement to release dozens of women and children hostages in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting.

Last month, Hamas released two US citizens following mediation efforts by Qatar.

“We are hopeful that we can get a significant number of hostages released in the counting days,” Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog said in an interview on ABC on Sunday.

Mr Herzog said that Israel was still opposed to a ceasefire, but that it was willing to negotiate a pause for a few days to allow the release of hostages.

“We are talking about a pause in fighting for a few days so we can get the hostages, but it's not a ceasefire,” he said.

“We are willing to go for a pause for a significant number of hostages if we can get a deal.”

Updated: November 19, 2023, 8:37 PM