Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced “progress” on a long-awaited prisoner exchange deal with Hamas on Tuesday ahead of cabinet meetings to discuss the terms, following reports of an imminent agreement.
“We are making progress. I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not even at this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement.
The prime minister’s office announced that he would convene a series of cabinet meetings on Tuesday evening, which Israeli officials briefed would focus on approving a prisoner exchange deal.
Hamas and Qatar, which has been mediating talks, said that a deal that would include a temporary ceasefire was “close” earlier on Tuesday.
“We are close to reaching a truce agreement,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said. The foreign minister of Qatar, which has been mediating talks, said that negotiations were in “final stages”.
Israeli and US media outlets reported the outline of a deal, citing sources with knowledge of the talks.
Hamas would release 50 Israeli women and children captured during the raids of 7 October in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Israeli diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid reported for Axios.
The exchange would reportedly occur over a four-day ceasefire, a first break in fighting since 7 October. More than 13,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis have been killed.
The deal would also involve a significant increase of aid into Gaza, which has been suffering severe food, fuel, and water shortages.
The ceasefire could then be extended to allow for further prisoner exchanges on similar terms. Israel believes 236 hostages are being held in Gaza.
The statements from Israel, Qatar, and Hamas are the most bullish yet after several weeks of indirect negotiations in which the US and Egypt have also played a role.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday “I believe so” when asked if an agreement was close.
But despite the growing confidence, US and Israeli officials continued to describe the potential agreement as fragile.
“Nothing is done until it’s done. We are negotiating with a psychopath,” former Israeli general and intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told i on Tuesday morning, but added that he expected an agreement within 48 hours.
Israeli media reported that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar had raised-last minute complications, including a demand that Israeli jets and drones limit flights over Gaza during the truce.
Israeli MP Moshe Roth accused Hamas of undermining the prospects for agreement.
“Hamas don’t give straightforward answers, they give vague answers and that complicates the picture,” he told i.
Mr Roth said that Israel was flexible on allowing aid into Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners released, but said a pause in fighting was a sticking point as it could leave Israeli soldiers in Gaza in a vulnerable position.
Palestinian political analyst Daoud Kuttab said he hoped that a temporary pause in fighting could lead to a lasting ceasefire.
“The stoppage of this carnage at any level for any set of days is good news, hopefully this will be the beginning of a process that will lead to a total ceasefire and the parallel serious effort to finding a political solution,” he told i.
Yossi Mekelberg, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House, said that both Israel and Hamas would have hoped for more than the reported terms of the deal and could face domestic pressure as a result.
“A good result is when both sides are equally dissatisfied,” he said.