June 13, 2024

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US and Qatar say deal closer over Hamas hostages

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The US and Qatar signalled on Sunday that they were edging closer to a deal to release a significant number of civilian hostages held by Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Any breakthrough is expected to lead to a multi-day pause in Israel’s offensive on Gaza and an increase of urgently needed aid into the coastal enclave that is enduring a deepening humanitarian crisis.

The plight of about 240 hostages has exacerbated the trauma of Israelis, and become a politically sensitive issue for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he pushes ahead with the offensive against Hamas, while families of the captives have pressured his government to do more to secure their freedom.

US deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer said Washington believed it was “closer than we have been to reaching a final agreement”, adding that many areas of difference that “previously existed have been narrowed”.

The Biden administration and Israel have resisted mounting calls for a ceasefire in the war with Hamas, instead insisting any pause in the Israeli air and land offensive on Gaza would only come after the Palestinian Islamist group agrees to free a large number of the civilian captives seized in its October 7 attack.

In a press conference late on Sunday, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari showed what he called “concrete evidence” that Hamas had hidden at least two hostages in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, where the IDF has focused its offensive in recent days.

“The Israel Defense Forces has a moral obligation to bring everyone, every one of our hostages home,” Hagari said. “We will not rest until we do.”

Talks to secure the release of civilian captives are being facilitated with Qatar, a US ally that hosts Hamas’s political office in Doha. Negotiators have previously believed they were close to securing a deal,…

2023-11-19 16:58:55

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