An agreement to guarantee the release of some of the hostages held in Gaza by Hamas militants is closer than ever in the Islamist group’s war against Israel, a White House official said Sunday.
White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said a deal to free “much more than 12” hostages would likely also include an extended pause in fighting and allow the distribution of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Fighting raged on Sunday, with Hamas militants clashing with Israeli forces trying to enter Gaza’s largest refugee camp, a day after Israeli and US officials denied a Washington Post report that a deal had been concluded.
“What I can say at this point is that some of the outstanding points of disagreement, in a very complex and very sensitive negotiation, have been narrowed down,” Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” .
“I think we’re closer than we’ve been in some time, maybe closer than we’ve been since we started this process, to getting this deal done,” he said. he adds.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog also said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that Israel hopes a significant number of hostages can be released by Hamas “in the next days”.
But Finer warned: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Sensitive negotiations like this can fail at the last minute.”
Hamas took around 240 hostages during its deadly cross-border attacks on Israeli communities on October 7, prompting Israel to besiege Gaza and invade Palestinian territory to eradicate the ruling Islamist group.
“We’re talking about way more than 12 (hostages),” Finer told NBC.
“This could and probably would include a prolonged period of pause in fighting, over several days,” he added. “This would allow us, we believe, to deliver more humanitarian aid to Gaza. This is a priority in all circumstances.”
Finer also said Israel should not carry out combat operations against Hamas in southern Gaza until military planners take into account the safety of fleeing Palestinian civilians.
“In the event that Israel engages in combat operations, including in the south, we believe … they have the right to do so,” Finer said on CBS’s Face the Nation in a separate interview.
“We believe their operations should not continue until these people, these additional civilians, have been factored into their military planning,” he said.
The Israeli blitz has reduced swathes of the north to rubble, while nearly two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced to the south.
The Gaza Health Ministry put the death toll from Israeli bombings at 12,300 people, including 5,000 children.
Finer urged Israel to learn from its military operations in northern Gaza and provide enhanced protection to civilians by reducing the area of active combat and specifying where civilians can seek refuge.
Israel on Saturday warned civilians in parts of southern Gaza to relocate as it prepares for an offensive from the north.
The south has been repeatedly bombed by Israel, making Israeli promises of security absurd, Palestinians say.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Jasper Ward, additional reporting by Leah Douglas; editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)