Israel and Hamas close to deal over release of hostages, say mediators

Qatari and US mediators believe only minor challenges remain to reach deal for temporary ceasefire in exchange for hostages

Israel and Hamas were close to a deal that would see the release of a significant number of hostages held in Gaza in return for a temporary ceasefire and other Israeli concessions, Qatari and American mediators indicated on Sunday.

Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said he was “more confident” that we are close enough to reach a deal. “The challenges that remain in the negotiations are very minor compared to the bigger challenges, they are more logistical, they are more practical.”

Israel ambassador to Washington Michael Herzog said, “We are hopeful that we can get a significant number of hostages freed in the coming days.”

The cautious optimism came after tens of thousands of relatives of the hostages and supporters rallied in Jerusalem at the weekend, after a five-day march from Tel Aviv, demanding the government work for a deal to release all the captives as quickly as possible. The Israeli war cabinet convened on Sunday night to discuss latest events.


The Washington Post reported that a deal was close involving the release of dozens of women and children hostages in exchange for a five-day pause in the fighting.

Almost 230 hostages were sized by Hamas gunmen on October 7th, when 3,000 militants crossed the Gaza border and entered 22 Israeli communities, killing 1,200 people. Among the captives is Irish-Israeli citizen Emily Hand, seized from kibbutz Be’eri, who turned nine on Friday.

The Israeli military released surveillance camera footage on Sunday night from Gaza city’s Shifa hospital, where Israeli troops entered last week, showing Hamas gunmen bringing a Nepali and Thai citizen who were abducted from Israel on October 7th into the hospital.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF), which claims Hamas operated a command centre underneath the hospital, also showed footage of a shaft on the hospital grounds that leads to a tunnel 55 meters long and 10 meters deep.

Thirty-one premature babies have been evacuated from al-Shifa hospital to a hospital in Rafah on the border with Egypt. The World Health Organisation said on Sunday night it was working to evacuate all the remaining patients and staff from the hospital within 72 hours.

A total of 50 Irish citizens and dependants have been assisted to leave Gaza this week, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, including the children of Khalid El Estal who arrived in Dublin Airport on Sunday to be greeted by their father after their mother was killed in an explosion.

“It’s difficult, it’s painful, but of course it will give me a strength being with my children now,” said Mr El Estal who was in tears as his children came through the doors in the arrivals hall.

Meanwhile, differences of opinion have emerged between Israel and the US over the “day after” in Gaza – what happens when the fighting ends. US president Joe Biden, in a Washington Post op-ed, proposed a “revitalised” Palestinian Authority assume control of Gaza, after the war. “As we strive for peace, Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a revitalised Palestinian Authority,” he wrote.

But Binyamin Netanyahu made it clear he would not accept Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority assuming control of Gaza, citing a Palestinian Authority statement blaming an Israeli helicopter attack for the massacre of 364 party goers at the outdoor music festival during the October 7th attack.

“Holocaust denier Abu Mazen [Abbas] now also denies the Hamas-Isis massacre,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The day after we eliminate Hamas, we will not allow whoever runs the civil administration in Gaza to deny terrorism, support terrorism, pay for terrorism and educate their children for terrorism and the destruction of Israel.”

On day 44 of the war, fierce fighting continued in Jabaliya and the Zeitoun neighbourhood of northern Gaza. There was still no Israeli military advance on Gaza’s second-biggest city, Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza, another Hamas stronghold, to where it is believed Hamas leaders fled. According to US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, Washington is advising Israel to delay advancing its forces south until the IDF has prepared a plan for humanitarian help for civilians there.

The Hamas-run health ministry reports that more than 13,000 residents have been killed in Israeli attacks.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem