GAZA/JERUSALEM – The head of Hamas told Reuters on Tuesday that the Palestinian militant group was close to a truce agreement with Israel, even as the deadly attack on Gaza continued and rockets were fired at Israel.
Hamas officials are “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group has handed its response to Qatari mediators, Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement sent to Reuters by his aide.
The statement did not provide further details, but a Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations focused on the duration of the truce, agreements to deliver aid to Gaza and the exchange of Israeli hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel. .
Both sides will release women and children and details will be announced by Qatar, which is mediating the talks, said the official, Issat el Reshiq.
Hamas took around 240 hostages during the attack on Israel on October 7, which killed 1,200 people.
Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday to “advance humanitarian issues” related to the conflict, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement. She also met separately with Qatari officials.
The ICRC said it was not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages, but that, as a neutral intermediary, it stood ready “to facilitate any future release to which the parties agree”.
Talk of an imminent hostage deal has been circulating for days. Reuters reported last week that Qatari mediators were seeking a deal for Hamas and Israel to exchange 50 hostages in exchange for a three-day ceasefire that would increase emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing an official briefed on the developments. negotiations.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that he expected a deal “in the next few days,” while Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the remaining points of contention were “much minor.” .”
U.S. President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials said Monday that a deal was close, but a deal had seemed close before.
“Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute,” White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Nothing is awake until everything is awake.”
The Hamas attack on October 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history, prompted Israel to invade Palestinian territory to target Hamas.
Since then, the Hamas-run Gaza government has said that at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,600 children and 3,550 women, by relentless Israeli bombardment.
Hamas said on its Telegram account on Monday that it had launched a missile barrage against Tel Aviv. Witnesses also reported that rockets were fired into central Israel.
Hospitals at risk
Palestinian news agency WAFA said on Tuesday that at least 17 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli shelling of the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza at midnight.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Monday that at least 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens injured in gunfire at the Indonesian hospital complex, which was surrounded by Israeli tanks.
Health officials said 700 patients and staff were under Israeli fire.
WAFA said the facility in the northeast Gaza town of Beit Lahia, funded by Indonesian organizations, was hit by artillery fire. Hospital staff denied that there were armed militants there.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was “horrified” by the attack which he also said killed 12 people, including patients, citing unspecified reports.
The Israel Defense Forces said troops fired on fighters in the hospital while taking “numerous measures to minimize harm” to non-combatants.
Like all other healthcare facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian Hospital has largely ceased operations but continues to house displaced patients, staff and residents.
Twenty-eight prematurely born babies evacuated from Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa, were taken to Egypt for urgent treatment on Monday.
Israeli forces captured Shifa last week to search for a network of tunnels they said were built by Hamas under the hospital. Hundreds of patients, medical staff and displaced people left Shifa over the weekend, with doctors saying they were expelled by troops and Israel saying the departures were voluntary.