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Hamas says truce deal with Israel 'is in sight'

By RFI
Middle East via REUTERS - THE EGYPTIAN HEALTH MINISTRY
NOV 21, 2023 LISTEN
via REUTERS - THE EGYPTIAN HEALTH MINISTRY

Hopes are mounting that dozens of hostages seized by Hamas could be released from the Gaza Strip, after the group's leader and key mediator Qatar both said a truce agreement with Israel was within reach. 

A statement released by the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Tuesday reads, "We are close to reaching a deal on a truce."

This, after US President Joe Biden indicated an accord was on the cards.

Meanwhile, in Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari told reporters: "We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.

"We're very optimistic, very hopeful," he added.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has vowed to destroy Hamas – kept tight-lipped after meeting families of some of the 240 hostages.

Hopes of a breakthrough have been mounting since Qatar said at the weekend only "minor" practical issues remained to secure a deal.

Speculation grew further when the International Committee of the Red Cross – which is often involved in prisoner exchanges and hostage releases – said on Monday that its president had met with Haniyeh in Qatar.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad – who launched the 7 October massacres that sparked Israel's retaliation – have reportedly said that their groups had agreed to the terms of a truce.

Hostage exchange for prisoner release

The tentative agreement would include a five-day truce, comprised of a complete ceasefire on the ground and an end to Israeli air operations over Gaza, except in the north, where they would only halt for six hours daily.

Under the deal, between 50 and 100 Israeli civilian and foreign hostages would be released, but no military personnel. 

In exchange, some 300 Palestinians would be freed from Israeli jails, among them women and minors.

An agreement could bring some respite for Gazans who have endured more than six weeks of  Israel bombardment and an expanding ground offensive.

Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of air strikes, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed to enter.

According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad reports, the proposed deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza.

Israel has been wary of allowing fuel into Gaza for fear it could be used by Hamas in rockets or for other military purposes. 

Evacuation of premature babies

Meanwhile, the Hamas-run health ministry said Israel had laid siege to and hit the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia on Monday, killing dozens, but there has been no independent confirmation of the toll.

According to the World Health Organization, twenty-eight premature babies from Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, were taken to Egypt for treatment on Monday. Three others evacuated from Al-Shifa remain in southern Gaza.

Two reportedly died before the evacuation.
The Indonesian Hospital lies near Gaza's largest refugee camp Jabalia, which has been the scene of intense Israeli bombing in recent days.

The health ministry official said there were still about 400 patients inside the hospital, as well as 2,000 people seeking shelter.

Around 200 people were evacuated from the hospital on Monday and bussed to the relative safety of a hospital in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

'Scenes of death'

Israel maintains Hamas uses medical facilities to hide fighters and as bases for operations, making them legitimate military objectives, while insisting it does everything possible to limit harm to civilians.

But international criticism of Israel's conduct of the war has grown, with protests across the world, international agencies making accusations of war crimes, and some governments breaking diplomatic ties.

The World Health Organization said it was "appalled" by the strike on the Indonesian Hospital, calling it just one of 164 documented attacks on health facilities and workers since the war began.

"The world cannot stand silent while these hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair," it said.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has warned that fuel shortages and worsening sanitation in Gaza were shaping up to be "a perfect storm for tragedy" through the spread of disease. 

The UN children's agency said it was particularly concerned about an outbreak of cholera, which is usually transmitted through contaminated water or food, causing diarrhoea and vomiting.

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