Qatar said Tuesday that an agreement was close for the release of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in exchange for a truce in the Palestinian territory where the Israeli army continues its offensive against the movement without respite. Islamist.
Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, and Israel have also reported progress towards the release of the hostages, negotiated in particular by Qatar.
The Israeli military estimates that around 240 hostages were taken to Gaza by Hamas commandos during their bloody attack on Israel on October 7.
“We are making progress” on the return of the hostages, declared Tuesday the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who made their release a prerequisite for any ceasefire.
“I hope there will be good news soon,” he added during a visit to a military base in the north of the country.
Negotiators have “never been closer to an agreement,” according to Qatar, which is working with the United States and Egypt to try to free hostages in exchange for a truce in the fighting.
Negotiations have reached the “final stage”, a representative of the Gulf emirate said on Tuesday.
“We are getting closer to concluding a truce agreement,” Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader who lives in exile in Qatar, said earlier.
According to sources within Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed Islamist group, the two movements have accepted an agreement, the details of which must be announced by Qatar and the other mediators.
International organizations and many foreign capitals are increasing calls for a ceasefire or truce in the face of the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the small besieged territory, where the war has destroyed entire neighborhoods, devastated the health system and resulted in massive population movements.
A health “tragedy” is looming in the Gaza Strip, where water is “cruelly lacking” and where the shortage of fuel risks causing “the collapse of sanitation services”, the United Nations Fund warned again on Tuesday for children (UNICEF).
The army, which continues its advance in the north of the Gaza Strip, announced that it had surrounded the Palestinian refugee camp of Jabaliya, the largest in the territory located at the gates of Gaza City, where most of the population is concentrated. of the Israeli offensive.
In Israel, 1,200 people, the vast majority civilians, were killed, according to the authorities, in the Hamas attack, of a scale and violence unprecedented in the history of the country.
In retaliation, Israel promised to “annihilate” the Islamist movement and relentlessly shelled the Palestinian territory, where its army has been leading a ground offensive since October 27 against Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. and Israel.
In the Gaza Strip, more than 13,300 people were killed in Israeli bombings, including more than 5,600 children, according to the Hamas government.
Any final details?
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric, met Monday evening with leaders of Qatar as well as Mr. Haniyeh, in order to “advance on humanitarian issues linked to the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza” . The ICRC insists that its teams be allowed to visit the hostages.
Two sources close to the matter told AFP on Tuesday that the talks focused on an agreement providing for the release of “50 to 100” hostages in exchange for the release of 300 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, including children and women.
The transfer would take place in stages at the rate of “ten” hostages against “thirty” Palestinian prisoners per day and would include the entry of food, medical aid and fuel and above all a “renewable five-day humanitarian truce”.
But Israel insists on “family reunification” meaning that if a civilian was released, his partner would also be released, even if he was a soldier, which Hamas refuses for the moment, being opposed to the release of soldiers, according to these two sources.
“We wanted to hear about an agreement and to hear that the return of the abductees is a priority among the objectives of the war. We didn’t hear that,” said Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Haimi is among the hostages, after a meeting Monday with Mr. Netanyahu.
“It’s incredibly disappointing,” he added.
A hospital under siege
The army announced on Tuesday that its soldiers “continued to fight” in the northern Gaza Strip and that air and drone strikes had destroyed three tunnel entrances “where terrorists were hiding” on the outskirts of the Jabaliya camp.
On Monday, Hamas accused Israel of having struck the Indonesian hospital, located on the edge of this camp, killing 12 people.
According to the spokesperson for the Hamas Ministry of Health, Ashraf al-Qidreh, this hospital was still under siege on Tuesday by Israeli tanks and “50 dead are lying in front of the establishment”.
The Islamist movement claims that Israel is waging “a war against hospitals” in Gaza, almost all of which in the north of the territory are no longer functioning.
Israel, which has occupied al-Chifa hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, since November 15, accuses Hamas of using hospitals as military bases, buried in particular in tunnels, and of using the civilians there as “human shields”, which the Palestinian movement denies.
According to the UN, nearly 1.7 million of the 2.4 million inhabitants have been displaced by the war in the Gaza Strip, subject since October 9 by Israel to a “complete siege” which is leading to shortages. water, food, fuel, medicine and electricity. Humanitarian aid, the entry of which is subject to the green light from Israel, arrives in dribs and drabs via Egypt, in insufficient quantities, according to the UN.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have fled the fighting in the north to mass in the south, near the Egyptian border, in very precarious conditions.
On Tuesday, in the town of Rafah, long lines of men and women waited for a distribution of bags of flour in front of the premises of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
“The missiles did not kill us, but now we are dying of hunger and thirst,” Halima Abu Amr, a resident of the town and mother of young children who arrived at 6 a.m., told AFP. “In the last few days, we had nothing, not even bread. In the shelter, they only distribute one meal every three days.”
During a virtual summit of emerging BRICS countries devoted to the conflict, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday accused Israel of “war crimes” and “genocide” in Gaza.