In an effort to facilitate a temporary pause in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the United States is brokering a potential deal that would lead to the release of several dozen women and children held as hostages in Gaza, according to individuals familiar with the negotiations. If finalized, this agreement could mark the first sustained period without conflict in Gaza.
Under the proposed terms, combat operations would be frozen for a minimum of five days as an initial batch of 50 or more hostages is released in smaller groups every 24 hours. The total number of hostages to be released is still unclear, as there are an estimated 239 individuals currently held captive in Gaza.
To ensure compliance with the temporary ceasefire, overhead surveillance would monitor movements on the ground.
The pause in fighting also aims to facilitate increased humanitarian aid, including fuel, to enter Gaza from Egypt. However, an anonymous administration official highlighted the volatile nature of the situation, stating that progress has been made but cautioning against premature celebrations.
These negotiations have taken place over several weeks in Doha, Qatar, with Israel, the United States, and Hamas indirectly represented by Qatari mediators. Up until now, it remained uncertain whether Israel would agree to a temporary ceasefire, contingent on specific conditions. The Israeli Embassy in Washington has declined to comment on the hostage situation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has faced mounting pressure due to concerns about the hostages, two of whom were reportedly found dead, as well as the increasing number of civilian casualties among Palestinians. Over 100 countries have called for an immediate and complete ceasefire, but the Israeli government finds itself torn between domestic pressure to secure the release of hostages and opposition to negotiating their freedom.
Despite public statements indicating a steadfast approach, Israel has acknowledged the mounting pressure it faces. To ease some of the international pressure, Israel recently allowed limited fuel transfers into Gaza after previously cutting off essential supplies. Netanyahu confirmed that, as part of the pause, humanitarian aid is crucial and that the government accepted recommendations to provide fuel to Gaza.
Thousands of Israeli hostage family members and their supporters concluded a five-day march demanding government intervention to secure the release of hostages. They argued that the lives of innocent Israelis outweigh any compromises made during short-term deals.
Initially hesitant, the Biden administration has thrown its support behind a temporary ceasefire, facing its own domestic divisions between support for Israel’s war aims and concerns about the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have made multiple visits to Israel, conveying the importance of a pause in fighting, especially in light of the growing number of Palestinian casualties.
The primary focus of the U.S. administration has been the release of the nine Americans and one permanent U.S. resident held hostage. U.S. officials believe that a temporary ceasefire would allow Hamas to gather the hostages, making it possible to safely escort them out of the conflict zone.
Although it is unclear whether the Americans and other foreigners would be part of the initial group of releases, if the release of women and children is successful, other captives may follow suit.
Brett McGurk, the top Middle East official on the White House National Security Council, is currently leading negotiations in the region to finalize the hostage release plan. While visiting Bahrain, he emphasized the intensive and ongoing nature of the talks. McGurk pointed to the earlier release of four captives, including an American mother and daughter, as a precursor to a more significant release.
The potential release of a large number of hostages would lead to a significant pause in fighting and a substantial influx of humanitarian aid entering Gaza. Additionally, McGurk stressed the importance of prioritizing the release of women, children, toddlers, and babies.
However, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi expressed his anger at McGurk’s remarks, believing that they implied that humanitarian relief would only be permitted after Hamas unconditionally released the hostages. Safadi accused Israel of holding over 2.3 million Palestinians hostage and exacerbating their suffering through the ongoing war.
An administration official clarified that the United States had not conditioned aid on the release of hostages, arguing that the misinterpretation of McGurk’s remarks was grossly inaccurate. The official highlighted the continuous U.S. efforts to increase humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s civilian population.