Hamas leader says ‘close to reaching’ truce deal in Israel-Hamas war

DOHA, Nov 21, 2023 (AFP) – Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Tuesday his militant movement was nearing a truce agreement with Israel, according to a statement posted on Telegram.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Haniyeh said, according to the post.

Negotiators have been working to seal a deal to allow the release of around 240 mostly Israeli hostages seized on October 7, during the deadliest assault on Israel in its history.

Hamas fighters also killed around 1,200 people during their cross-border assault, most of them civilians.

Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in retaliation for the attack, vowing to destroy Hamas and secure the release of the hostages.

According to the Hamas government in Gaza, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.

Intense negotiations mediated by Qatar, where Hamas has a political office and where Haniyeh is based, have been under way.

Qatar’s prime minister said Sunday that a deal to free some of the hostages in return for a temporary ceasefire hinged on “minor” practical issues.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden said he believed a deal to free the hostages was close.

“I believe so,” Biden said when asked whether a hostage deal was near.

Biden then crossed his fingers to signal he hoped for good luck.

Two sources familiar with the talks told AFP a tentative deal includes a five-day truce, comprised of a ceasefire on the ground and limits to Israeli air operations over southern Gaza.

In return, between 50 and 100 prisoners held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad — a separate Palestinian militant group — would be released.

They would include Israeli civilians and captives of other nationalities, but no military personnel.

Under the proposed deal, some 300 Palestinians would be released from Israeli jails, among them women and children.

The White House said the negotiations were in the “endgame” stage, but refused to give further details, saying it could jeopardise a successful outcome.

Separately, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that its president had travelled to Qatar to meet Hamas’s Haniyeh “to advance humanitarian issues related to the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza”.

In a statement, the Geneva-based organisation said it was continuing “to appeal for the urgent protection of all victims in the conflict, and for the alleviation of the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip”.

It also said it had “persistently called for the immediate release of hostages”.