PM meets with families of hostages held in Gaza as reports swirl of imminent deal

PM meets with families of hostages held in Gaza as reports swirl of imminent deal

Netanyahu sits down with relatives of some 240 taken on October 7 by Hamas and other terror factions; Biden says he thinks agreement is close to being finalized.

Families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, November 19, 2023. (The Times of Israel: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, November 19, 2023. (The Times of Israel: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

(THE TIMES OF ISRAEL) As reports swirl that a deal may be in the offing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting on Monday evening with the families of some 240 hostages being held by Hamas and other terror factions in the Gaza Strip since the October 7 atrocities across southern Israel.

The meeting was held at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, but initially devolved into chaotic scenes amid a dust-up with some of the families who were refused initial entry into the meeting.

The families said they provided a list of 107 representatives to the premier’s office ahead of time, but upon their arrival, many were told that there was not enough space in the auditorium that was reserved for the meeting for all of them to attend.

All the representatives were eventually allowed to attend.

Earlier Monday, some of the relatives attended a heated Knesset committee hearing on controversial legislation to impose the death penalty on terrorists, beseeching Knesset members not to consider the legislation due to fear that it might have severe repercussions for their abducted relatives.

The families have been organizing protests, rallies, and marches to press the government on securing their loved ones’ release. On Saturday, families of hostages and thousands of their supporters demonstrated in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square in a rally focused in particular on the some 40 children believed held in Gaza.

Israelis with family members held abducted by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since October 7 attend a Knesset National Security Committee hearing, November 20, 2023. Seated left is Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat is one of the hostages. (The Times of Israel: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s office has repeatedly cautioned against various media reports regarding the hostage negotiations, adding that it would formally notify the public in the event that a deal is actually reached.

According to recent reporting, American and Qatari officials have indicatedthat Israel and Hamas were closing in on a deal that would see a limited release of some hostages held in Gaza. The details of a potential agreement remain murky, given conflicting reports as to how close the sides actually were to sealing an exchange.

According to a Washington Post report this week, the deal on the table would see the release of dozens of women and children hostages being held by terrorists in Gaza, in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden was asked during the annual turkey pardoning ceremony on the White House lawn, in the run up to Thursday’s US Thanksgiving holiday, whether a hostage deal was close to being reached, to which he responded: “I believe so…yes.”

He added that he could not speak publicly about it any further and then raised his hand up to show that his fingers were crossed in the hope that a deal would take place soon.

US President Joe Biden pardons the national Thanksgiving turkeys, Liberty and Bell, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, November 20, 2023. (The Times of Israel: AP/ Andrew Harnik

Soon after, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, “We’re closer now to a hostage deal than we’ve been before,” declining to elaborate further.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported Monday that, following Biden’s comment, officials believe “the window of opportunity has reopened and these are critical days ahead.”

The report said Israel wants to progress, in principle, on a deal for the release of dozens of children and women hostages. Channel 12 noted that Hamas was demanding the release of 100 male and female prisoners, a five-day pause in the fighting, Israel’s commitment not use its observation drones during those five days to keep tabs on what Hamas was up to.

The report quoted a senior Israeli diplomatic source saying: “There will be difficult days ahead. Hamas will do everything to harm the Israeli public. The deal is not something that can be finalized from today to tomorrow; freeing the hostages will take several days.”

On Sunday, Channel 12 reported that while Israel was demanding the release of all hostage children and their mothers — about 75-80 people — Hamas is claiming it does not know the location of them all — as the hostages are being held by various factions and cells — and needs the pause in fighting to determine where they all are.

Family and supporters of the estimated 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza complete the final leg of a five-day solidarity rally calling for their return, from Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 18, 2023. (The Times of Israel: AP/Mahmoud Illean)

The Washington Post report on Sunday cited a “detailed, six-page agreement,” that says Israel and Hamas will freeze all hostilities for at least five days while an “initial 50 or more” of the hostages taken “are released in batches every 24 hours.”

The reported deal will also include a “significant increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance, including fuel” that will enter the Gaza Strip.

So far efforts by Qatar have led to the release of four of the hostages. A fifth hostage, a soldier, was rescued in an Israeli operation.

Also Monday, International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar, her office said in a statement.

“The ICRC has persistently called for the immediate release of hostages. The ICRC is insisting that our teams be allowed to visit the hostages to check on their welfare and deliver medications, and for the hostages to be able to communicate with their families. Agreements must be reached that allow the ICRC to safely carry out this work. The ICRC cannot force its way into where hostages are held, nor do we know their location,” the statement said.

“The ICRC does not take part in negotiations leading to the release of hostages. As a neutral humanitarian intermediary, we remain ready to facilitate any future release that the parties to the conflict agree to, as ICRC staff have already done on two occasions,” it added.

Israeli families have been critical of the Red Cross, which has so far failed to secure a meeting with the hostages.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the families of Gaza hostages meet with ICRC chief Mirjana Spoljaric Egger in Geneva, Switzerland on November 14, 2023. (The Times of Israel: nternational Red Cross)

The hostages were taken during Hamas’s shock October 7 invasion of southern Israeli communities, when 3,000 terrorists broke through the border and murdered some 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, slaughtered in their homes and at an outdoors music festival amid brutal atrocities.

Israel then launched an air and ground offensive with the goal of eliminating the terror group in the Strip.

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