Israeli government meets to decide on deal for Hamas to free some hostages

Palestinian state

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his government on Tuesday to back a deal to clear the way for the release of some of the hostages that Palestinian Hamas militants took to the Gaza Strip during an Oct 7 assault on Israel.

In a recorded message at the start of a government meeting, Netanyahu vowed the war would continue until Israel achieved all its goals. A US official had said the deal will include a four- or five-day ceasefire, the first pause in six weeks of an Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Speaking after presenting the still-undisclosed details of the deal to his war cabinet and the wider national security cabinet, Netanyahu told his government it was a difficult decision but the right decision and would enable Israel to go on fighting Hamas.

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He said the intervention of US President Joe Biden had helped to improve the deal so that it included more hostages for fewer concessions.

In an earlier briefing, chief military spokesman Daniel Hagari said: “The military will know how to maintain its military achievements in Gaza while preparing for the next stages of the war.”

Talk of an imminent hostage deal has swirled for days. Hamas took about 240 hostages, including children and elderly people, during its rampage into Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israel’s tally.

In Israel’s subsequent aerial blitz and invasion of Gaza, the enclave’s Hamas-run government says at least 13,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed including at least 5,600 children.

A US official briefed on the discussions facilitated by Qatar said the deal would include 50 hostages, mostly women and children, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and a pause in the fighting of four or five days.

Relatives of the Israeli hostages and supporters had marched by the thousands along the highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to pressure the government to secure the captives’ release.

On Tuesday, dozens of Israelis gathered outside the Defence Ministry campus in Tel Aviv earlier on Tuesday, beating drums, carrying signs that said “Deal Now!” and chanting, “Time is running out, bring all of them back!”

Kamelia Hoter Ishay, the grandmother of 13-year-old Gali Tarshansky, who is believed to be held in Gaza, said she was trying not to follow all the deal reports because she was afraid of being disappointed.

“The only thing I am waiting for is the phone call from my daughter, Reuma, who will say, ‘Gali is coming back.’ And then I’ll know that it’s really over and I can breathe a sigh of relief and say that’s it, it’s over,” she said.

Tarshansky was kidnapped from her home in Kibbutz Beeri, one of the communities worst hit by Hamas.

Zvika Itzhaki, a relative of Israeli hostage Omer Wenkert, 22, said although the family was happy for the release of women and children, he hoped for the release also of those who are chronically sick.

“He has colitis, a severe intestinal disease. He has to take his daily pill. We don’t know what medical state he’s in,” Itzhaki said.

Qadura Fares, head of the Commission for Prisoners’ Affairs in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that he had not seen the list of Palestinian prisoners included in the pending deal.

He said among more than 7,800 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel are some 85 women and 350 minors. Most were detained without charges or for incidents such as hurling rocks at Israeli soldiers, not for launching militant attacks, he said.

“Talk of an exchange deal is what has brought attention to the issue of the arbitrary detention of Palestinian children who are being tried in military courts,” he said.

“The world must know that Israel detains children and systematically targets them, and that their release from prison will surely be a comfort for their families.”

An Israel Prison Service spokesperson said they were not aware of a deal to release Palestinian prisoners. They said they did not have information on how many Palestinian women and children were in its custody and details on the kinds of offences they were sentenced for.

Hamas has to date released only four captives: US citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct 20, citing “humanitarian reasons,” and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct 23.

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