Negotiations are continuing between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, mediated by Qatar in coordination with the United States, that could see 10-15 Hamas-held captives released in exchange for a multiday pause in fighting, Hamas and Egyptian sources have told the Reuters and AFP news agencies.
The reports on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the negotiations, said that details around a prospective deal remain uncertain.
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“The exact number is still unclear at this stage,” an anonymous source told Reuters, which placed the number of captives that could be released at between 10 and 15.
AFP cited a source close to Hamas saying the talks “revolve around the release of 12 hostages, half of them Americans, in exchange for a three-day humanitarian pause”.
“There’s a lot of talking going on, a lot of negotiating going on,” said Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher. “Plus, you’ve got to add this to the mix: [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu said there would be no ceasefire unless all the captives are released. And that is a significant statement to make, particularly as he’s spoken to [US President] Joe Biden on a number of occasions.”
Qatar has been a key player in talks securing the release of an estimated 240 captives held by Hamas, and most recently negotiated the handover of four captives.
“This is great news. It comes after communication between Washington and Tel Aviv over the last 48 hours. I think there was a huge effort by the Americans when it comes to the hostages,” researcher Mahjoob Zweiri, from Qatar University, told Al Jazeera.
While there have been discussions of a “tactical pause in the fighting”, Fisher said that this was also dismissed by Netanyahu 24 hours ago, when he said that there will only be a ceasefire when all the captives are freed.
Netanyahu “will come under pressure in Israel if there is the possibility of freeing even some of the captives, if there is some sort of deal that can be done to free those captives, but those negotiations are still continuing – nothing concrete at the moment,” Fisher reported.
Reuters, citing an Egyptian security source, said that a 24-48 hour pause in fighting, or narrowing of the main zone of fighting, is expected within the next week in exchange for the release of some hostages.
In a television address on Wednesday, Abu Obaida, a spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas said that the only way to guarantee the full release of captives was through a “complete or gradual swap of prisoners”, in a televised address on Al-Aqsa TV.
The Qassam Brigades’s spokesperson said the group is holding women captives, as well as sick and elderly people and other civilians, but stressed that Israel is holding the same types of people in its prisons.
“This issue cannot be resolved except via a trade within each of these categories [of prisoners and captives] or in a comprehensive process that includes everyone,” he added.
More than 240 people, including Israeli soldiers and civilians as well as foreigners, were taken captive during an attack on Israel on October 7 that Israeli authorities said killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
That attack, which included Palestinian gunmen killing families and taking people hostage across towns in southern Israel, has been widely condemned, with rights groups and the United Nations calling for their immediate release.
Hamas has called for a prisoner swap, demanding that Israel release thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
In Israel, groups of families with loved ones held captive in Gaza have pressured Netanyahu to consider such a deal, which they have dubbed “all for all”.
“As far as the families are concerned, a deal of a return of our family members immediately in the framework of ‘all for all’ is feasible, and there will be wide national support for this,” said MeIrav Gonen, a representative of one such group. Her daughter, Romi, is one of the captives.
Following reports on the latest negotiations, the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said it welcomed “the return of each and every hostage”.
It remains unclear how much Israel will prioritise the freeing of captives as it wages an assault on Gaza from land, sea, and air, with ground forces penetrating into Gaza City and air raids killing more than 10,569 people, including 4,324 children, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.