Forty-four days after the war began, Israel, the US and Hamas are closing in on a deal which will see almost 50 hostages, mostly women and children, being released from Gaza, according to a report. However, Israel has shot down all claims of a deal.
A "detailed six-page agreement" is being signed which will see Israel and Hamas freezing all hostilities for at least five days, reported The Washington Post. It added that in the initial phase, 50 or more hostages taken from Israel would be released in batches every 24 hours. The deal also assures that a "significant increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance, including fuel" will enter the Gaza Strip.
Qatar is acting as the intermediators for the talks and the deal has been in works during weeks of talks in Doha, said the report citing Arab and other diplomats. It is said that Israel wants families — parents and children — to be released together, and has been insisting on that in the talks.
However, a Biden administration official said the situation remains volatile. "We’ve made some progress recently and have been working hard to advance this, but it remains a volatile situation," a Biden administration official is quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed "a lot of incorrect reports" about any agreements. "Concerning the hostages, there are many unsubstantiated rumours, many incorrect reports. I would like to make it clear: As of now, there has been no deal. But I want to promise: When there is something to say – we will report to you about it," he said.
On whether he had passed up a serious deal for the release of some 50 hostages, Netanyahu responded that "there was no deal on the table" and he could not elaborate further. Asked if he was insisting that all be released, Netanyahu said he wanted to get back all the hostages. "We’re doing the utmost to bring back the most possible, including in stages, and we are united on this."
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces continued to strike many Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip towns of Jabaliya, Beit Lahiya, and Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighbourhood overnight. The airstrikes come as ground forces begin to manoeuvre deeper into the northern Gaza Strip, specifically Jabaliya and Zeitoun.
Heavy fighting is reportedly happening in the northwest Jabalia refugee camp, the largest of all camps in the enclave with nearly 100,000 people.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government controls parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Saturday said "hundreds of forcibly displaced people were killed" at the two schools in Gaza.