Washington – An agreement to secure the release of some of the hostages held in Gaza by Hamas militants is closer than ever, amid the Islamist group’s war with Israel, a White House official said yesterday.
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer stated that an agreement to free “well over 12” hostages would likely include an extended pause in fighting and allow the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza. Fighting continued yesterday, with Hamas militants battling 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 reached.
“What I can say right now is that some of the outstanding areas of disagreement, in a very complicated and very sensitive negotiation, have been narrowed,” Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I think we are closer than we have been in a long time, perhaps closer than we have been since the beginning of this process, to closing this deal,” he added. Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, also said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that Israel hopes Hamas can release a significant number of hostages “in the coming days.”
But Finer warned: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Delicate negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute.”
Hamas took some 240 hostages during its deadly cross-border assault on Israeli communities on October 7, which led Israel to lay siege to Gaza and invade Palestinian territory to eradicate its ruling Islamist group.
“We’re talking about well over 12 hostages,” Finer told NBC.
“This could and probably would include an extended period of lull in fighting, a period of several days,” he added. “It would allow us, we believe, to get more humanitarian aid to Gaza. That is a priority in any circumstance.”
Finer also said Israel should not conduct combat operations against Hamas in southern Gaza until military planners have taken into account the safety of fleeing Palestinian civilians.
“In the event that Israel is likely to engage in combat operations, including in the south, we believe … they have the right to do so,” Finer told CBS’s Face the Nation in a separate interview.
“We believe that their operations should not move forward until those people, those additional civilians, have been taken into account in their military planning,” he added. Israeli bombardment has reduced swaths of the north to rubble, while about two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced to the south. The Gaza Health Ministry has raised the death toll from the Israeli bombings to 12,300, including 5,000 children. Finer urged Israel to draw lessons from its military operations in northern Gaza and provide greater protection to civilians by reducing the active combat zone and specifying where civilians can seek refuge.