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Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. Picture: REUTERS
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. Picture: REUTERS

Gaza/Jerusalem — The chief of Hamas said on Tuesday that the Palestinian militant group is near a truce agreement with Israel, even as the assault on Gaza continues and rockets are being fired into Israel.

Hamas officials are “close to reaching a truce agreement” with Israel and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators, Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement sent to Reuters by his aide.

A source briefed on the negotiations said the agreement is in its “final stages” and “closer than it has ever been”.

The deal envisages the release of about 50 civilian hostages by Hamas and of female and minor-aged Palestinian detainees from Israeli custody, as well as a multiday pause in fighting, according to the source.

A Hamas official told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations are centred on how long the truce would last, arrangements for delivery of aid into Gaza and details of the exchange of captives.

Both sides would free women and children and details will be announced by Qatar, which is mediating in the negotiations, said the official, Issat el Reshiq.

Israel has generally avoided giving commentary on the status of the Qatar-led talks, but Israel’s Channel 12 and Channel 13 TV stations both quoted unidentified officials as saying terms of a deal could be reached “within hours”, giving no details.

Hamas took about 240 hostages during its October 7 rampage into Israel that killed 1,200 people.

Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met Haniyeh in Qatar on Monday to “advance humanitarian issues” related to the conflict, the Geneva-based committee said in a statement. She also separately met Qatari authorities. The ommittee said it is not part of negotiations aimed at releasing the hostages, but as a neutral intermediary it is ready “to facilitate any future release that the parties agree to”.

Talk of an imminent hostage deal has swirled for days.

Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Herzog said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that he hoped for an agreement “in the coming days”, while Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the remaining sticking points are “very minor”. US President Joe Biden and other US officials said on Monday a deal is near.

The Hamas attack on October 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year-old history, prompted Israel to invade Gaza to annihilate the militant group that has ruled there since 2007.

Since then, Gaza’s Hamas-run government says at least 13,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed by Israeli bombardment, which has turned much of Gaza, especially its northern half, into wasteland.

About two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3-million people have been made homeless, with thousands a day still trekking south on foot with belongings and children in their arms. The central and southern parts of the enclave, where Israel has told them to go, have also regularly come under attack.

A day and a night of rain and cold winter weather worsened the dire conditions in Gaza for the displaced, many thousands of whom are sleeping rough or in makeshift tents.

Gaza health authorities said on Tuesday at least 20 Palestinians were killed in Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat  refugee camp in central Gaza at midnight. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The already crowded Nuseirat district, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, is just south of the wetlands that bisect the strip and has been the arrival point for huge numbers escaping the fighting further north.

Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to remain in the north despite an Israeli order to flee. All hospitals there have ceased functioning normally, though many are still housing patients and displaced Gazans. Israel says Hamas uses hospitals as shields for its fighters, which Hamas and the hospitals deny.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is working on plans to evacuate three hospitals in northern Gaza: al-Shifa, al-Ahli and the Indonesian Hospital, lamenting this as a last resort. “It’s robbing the entire population of the north of the means to seek health[care],” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva media briefing.

Gaza’s health ministry said on Monday that at least 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded by firing into the Indonesian-built hospital, encircled by Israeli tanks. Israel says it shot back at fighters who opened fire from inside it.

Health officials said 700 patients along with staff were under Israeli fire, and have denied any fighters were present.

The head of the nursing department, Issam Nabhan, told Al Jazeera Live on Tuesday that patients are dying and there are 60 dead bodies that need to be buried in courtyards on the grounds. He called for patients and staff to be evacuated.

“There is no oxygen to supply the patients. All those on artificial respiration have died. We speak out to the free world. The Indonesian hospital has become a cemetery, not a hospital.”


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