GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters): Hamas militants battled Israeli forces trying to push into Gaza’s largest refugee camp on Sunday and Israeli air strikes to the south killed dozens of Palestinians, witnesses said, as a U.S. media report of a nascent hostage release deal was denied.
The Washington Post said on Sunday that U.S. mediators were close to a deal between Israel and Hamas to free dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for a five-day pause in their war that would help boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing people familiar with the matter.
The Post had reported on Saturday that a tentative deal had been reached, and this was denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. officials, with a White House spokesperson saying efforts were continuing to clinch a deal.
Hamas took about 240 hostages during its deadly cross-border rampage into Israeli communities on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to lay siege to Gaza and invade the Palestinian territory to eradicate its ruling Islamist group.
Reuters reported on Nov. 15 that Qatari mediators had been seeking a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire, citing an official briefed on the talks. At the time, the official said general outlines had been agreed but Israel was still negotiating details.
On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main sticking points blocking a hostage release deal were now “very minor” – mainly practical and logistical issues.