Signs of a deal in Gaza
Reports say that Israel, Hamas and the US are closing in on a deal for a 5-day pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of hostages. The details were first published in The Washington Post yesterday afternoon, and while there have been no details on when it would begin, the agreement is said to outline that a group of hostages would be released every 24 hours. But it’s not time to breathe a sigh of relief quite yet – US officials say nothing has been locked in, and late yesterday, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “As of now, there has been no deal.” Overnight, Qatari PM Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said that only “very minor” obstacles remain for the deal to be done.
What’s known about the hostages?
There are 239 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza. They are mostly Israeli civilians, including 20 children. Also taken were soldiers and foreign nationals, including around 10 American citizens. Hamas has claimed that 50 hostages have been killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza – that number is unconfirmed, but Israeli soldiers in Gaza have recovered the bodies of 2 hostages so far during their military operations in the Palestinian territory. Securing the return of the hostages is a priority for Israelis – PM Netanyahu has said Israel will not discuss a ceasefire until they have been returned. And it’s a red-button issue for Israelis – on Saturday, thousands marched on Jerusalem to demand the Israeli Government secure their freedom.
What about the rest of the fighting?
The conflict has been going on for more than 6 weeks after Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis on 7 October. Hamas officials say over 12,300 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s counter-attack. The focus of the fighting last week was the Al-Shifa Hospital, and overnight, the Palestinian Red Crescent and United Nations agencies evacuated 31 premature babies and their families to Egypt. On Saturday, World Health Organization officials visited the hospital and described it as a “death zone” – one of their top concerns was for the babies. And in the fighting, Israeli forces have been bombing targets in central and south Gaza. The southern cities of Rafah and Khan Younis have been attacked, with residents warned that no part of Gaza is safe.
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