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Negotiators close to reaching deal with Hamas to free hostages

Negotiators close to reaching deal with Hamas to free hostages

Negotiators are getting closer to a agreement with Hamas initially freeing 50 civilians in exchange for Israel allowing in more aid including fuel, coinciding with a limited lull in fighting, multiple sources told CBS News. More releases of civilian hostages could follow.

At this stage, there is no firm agreement in hand, but rather a draft written agreement being approved between the parties who remain locked in what CBS News described as very difficult talks negotiated with the help of the United States and Qataraccording to two sources familiar.

In an interview with “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan,” White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer he said that “many areas of difference that previously existed” in the hostage talks “have been narrowed” and that the United States is “closer than we are to reaching a final agreement.”

Finer said it would be unhelpful to publicly detail the developing diplomacy and acknowledged the caveat that past deals had been struck before collapsing. Hopes were high last week that a breakthrough in diplomacy was finally imminent, but two officials in the region cited the Israeli military move at Al-Shifa hospital as having complicated diplomacy with Hamas.

A source familiar with the draft agreement told CBS News that the proposal as it stands now would involve the release of 50 hostages on the first day with a limited pause in fighting lasting about four days lasting six hours a day. If that release and pause occur as planned, there would be a second release of around 20 to 25 hostages, according to this source. White House officials declined to comment on the sensitive diplomacy.

At a news conference Sunday in Doha, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani described the remaining sticking points of the emerging deal between Israel and Hamas as “very minor” logistical issues and said the parties are ” close to reaching an agreement. “.

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani speaks during a press conference with European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell in Doha on November 19, 2023 .

AFP via Getty Images

Sources familiar with the talks have said there are several recent issues complicating the situation, including whether aerial surveillance would be conducted during the releases. Israel has also demanded that Hamas provide some accounting for the captives it holds or may obtain from other militant groups such as Islamic Jihad, as the total number of more than 200 hostages remains only an estimate. Last week, two of the missing people believed to have been hostages, Noa Marciano and Yehudit Weiss, were found dead by the IDF near the 45,000-square-meter al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza. The remains of those massacred by the Hamas terrorist group and other militants during the October 7 attack in Israel continue to be identified.

“Obviously, Gaza is an extremely dangerous place to be a civilian, to be a hostage right now,” Finer told CBS’ Margaret Brennan, “so it’s imperative to have time.”

Finer said he wouldn’t use the phrase “running out of time,” but “we feel deeply that this should be done as soon as possible.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS News Norah O’Donnell said last week that Israel had “strong indications” that there were hostages at al-Shifa hospital, which was one of the reasons she cited for the Israel Defense Forces’ decision to enter the al-Shifa hospital. Shifa. However, Netanyahu added that “if there were any, they were eliminated.”

The United States has not presented intelligence information to confirm the assessment, but it has emit degraded intelligence last week that members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operate a “command and control node” from al-Shifa hospital and underground tunnels, and have used it for both weapons and hostages.

Finer said the United States still trusts his assessment and said the Israeli military is still “exploiting” the Al Shifa facilities to find more information.

In Manama on Saturday, President Biden’s top Middle East adviser, Brett McGurk, described the hostage talks as intensive and ongoing before heading to Doha to meet with Qatar’s prime minister that evening. In public comments, McGurk echoed Israel’s call for the release of a “large number of hostages” to bring about a “significant pause in the fighting” and what he described as a “massive” increase in humanitarian aid. He acknowledged that one of Hamas’ demands has been to receive fuel and humanitarian supplies. McGurk made no public mention of a previous Hamas request for the release of an unknown number of Palestinian women and children from Israeli detention centers.

“That’s the deal they made,” McGurk has said since the early days. McGurk said it remains Hamas’s responsibility to free all the hostages: “the women, the children, the toddlers, the babies, all of them.”

CIA Director Bill Burns is back in Washington, but remains involved after his meetings in recent weeks with the Mossad chief. President Biden himself has been working the phones, calling the emir of Qatar on November 12 and as recently as Friday, an indication that a resolution was near.

Qatar is using its relationship with Hamas to mediate and the United States is helping mediate proposals that move from a tight circle in Doha to Hamas leaders in Gaza, as well as Israel’s five-person war cabinet headed by Netanyahu.



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