Washington – Israel is considering a proposal for Hamas to release part of the hostages held by the Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a ceasefire for a period of between three and five days.CBS News has learned. Aid will also be allowed into Gaza during the cessation of hostilities. Two officials familiar with the negotiations said that under the proposed agreement, Hamas would release an unknown number of women and children.
Children are being prioritized as part of the first group for a potential hostage release with the aim of returning approximately 240 hostages taken during the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants.
President Biden said Wednesday that the United States believes there are “between 50 and 100 hostages” in Gaza. So far, only four have been captured.Hamas released two Israelis. During these hostage releases, short-term pauses in fighting helped ensure the safe transfer of the hostages to Israel.
As part of the proposal, an unspecified number of Palestinian women and children currently held in Israeli prisons could also be released, one official told CBS News.
It is not clear where these Palestinian prisoners will go if they are released, according to an official in the region, given that the war in Gaza led to the displacement of nearly 1.6 million Palestinians from their homes, according to United Nations figures.
A second official stressed that only if a final agreement was reached would Hamas’s long-standing demand for the release of Palestinian prisoners be part of it. It is not clear how many Palestinian prisoners might be involved. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, there were 147 minors in Israeli custody as of June.
There was almost an agreement at the end of October to release the hostages, but it was scuttled at the eleventh hour, as CBS News reported.
Politically charged negotiationsIn recent weeks, it has largely halted as Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza. One constant has been to prioritize civilians — about 50 of them in particular — over Israeli military service members who are also being held hostage, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity, including from CIA Director Bill BurnsWith senior Qatari officials in Doha. This was followed this week by meetings in the region in which President Biden’s senior Middle East advisor, Brett McGurk, participated. Qatar, where Hamas has long had an international office, is mediating negotiations with the movement.
Among the hostages, 10 Americans are missing, according to the State Department. In a revelation aimed at increasing pressure on the operation, the White House revealed this weekend that a 3-year-old girl, a US citizen, was among those believed to be detained in Gaza.
One complication in these final stages of talks is Hamas’ inability to determine the fate of, or be able to find, each of the hostages it is believed to be holding. Israel requires that this accountability be part of the process. Other armed groups in Gaza may be holding some prisoners. Israel’s demand for full accountability for the hostages is further complicated by the fact that the captives are spread across the war zone and are being held by different groups.
“I can’t look you in the eye and tell you they’re still alive,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said of the American hostages earlier this week.
The United States is flying unarmed drones over Gaza to help locate hostages — a sign of attempts to improve the incomplete intelligence picture of the Palestinian enclave. Last week, Israel revised the death toll from the attack as it continues to identify remains, and remains unsure exactly how many people are still being held.
In a previous proposal, Hamas said it was ready to release 10 children as part of the first payment in exchange for a ceasefire, but Israel demanded more. Throughout this process, there has been a focus on approximately 50 civilians, and the interest of several foreign governments in the recovery of dual nationals.
In recent weeks, there have been multiple leaked versions of the proposals, but with no specific numbers officially recognized by all the governments involved or Hamas.
Hostage diplomacy is always complicated, but American, Israeli and Qatari officials all acknowledge that this was particularly thorny given that the negotiations were taking place during an active war. Two officials familiar with the talks said one challenge is the length of time it takes to get a response from Hamas leaders besieged in Gaza after something is agreed among political leaders in Doha.
In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have touted the four hostages who have already been released, including an American mother and daughter, as a test case for future release. In both previous versions, Qatar played the role of mediator and the International Committee of the Red Cross was the neutral entity that accompanied the hostages from Hamas custody in Gaza to Israeli custody.
But in the weeks following these initial hostage releases, the hostage issue became increasingly politically charged in Israel. normalThe Israeli leadership was sharply criticized not only for its failure to secure the release of the hostages, but also for its failure to detect and thwart the terrorist attack launched by Hamas on October 7 in the first place.
As for the broader conflict with Hamas, Israeli officials have indicated to the United States that clearing the sprawling Shifa Hospital in and around Gaza City is one of their primary goals before ending the all-out war. Another goal isYahya Al-Sanwar, believed to be the architect of the October 7 attack. He himself was a prisoner for decades in Israel before being released as part of a In order to release the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
After his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden said he was working every day “on how to help get the hostages released and have a period of time where there’s a pause long enough to allow that to happen.”
He said that he was doing everything in his power to ensure their safe return, but he clarified that this did not mean that the United States was considering sending its military forces.
“I’m somewhat optimistic, I’m somewhat optimistic,” Biden said.
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