According to the Prime Minister of Qatar, who played a key role in the negotiations, only ‘practical and logistical’ problems would stand in the way. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately denied the report, but he is under pressure at home not to negotiate with Hamas, writes The Washington Post. Other sources said that while there was no agreement yet, work was underway.
Prime Minister Al Thani of Qatar was clearly the most positive at a joint press conference with the EU’s foreign chief, Josep Borrell: ‘The challenges that currently stand in the way of an agreement are purely practical and logistical in nature. Good progress has been made in recent days.’
About the author
Michel Maas is foreign editor of de Volkskrant. Previously he was a war reporter and correspondent in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
Negotiators from Israel, the United States and Hamas (which was represented by mediators from Qatar) worked for weeks in Doha on the outlines of an agreement. The negotiations have had “peaks and valleys” in recent weeks, according to Al Thani The Guardian him, “but I think I’m more confident now that we’re really close to an agreement that will get people home safely.” However, he did not estimate when that might happen.
Women and children
According to top US adviser on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, “women, children, toddlers and babies” would be released. The release would not apply to men and to (male and female) soldiers.
The Washington Post was the first to report the ‘approaching agreement’ on Saturday. According to this newspaper, ‘dozens of hostages’ could be released ‘possibly even in the coming days’. The pause in combat during which this would happen would have to last for five days. The newspaper relied on anonymous officials and “people aware of the terms” of the agreement.
According to American negotiator McGurk, the release of hostages by Hamas was a condition for the rest. Once hostages were released, “hundreds and hundreds of trucks full of aid” would enter Gaza from Egypt. That prompted an angry outburst from Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who pointed out that it wasn’t just Hamas that was the bad guy here: “Israel is holding 2.3 million Palestinians hostage, denying them food and water.”
Babies in critical condition
“The situation in Gaza remains delicate,” a government official concluded The Washington Post. How delicate, that was witnessed by a UN delegation, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), on Saturday. The delegation visited the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City occupied by Israeli soldiers. The WHO afterwards called the hospital a ‘zone of death’. 291 patients and 31 premature babies are said to be ‘in critical condition’, and next to the entrance to the complex there is said to be a mass grave containing 80 bodies.
Hundreds of patients are said to have fled the hospital in recent days. According to the WHO, they left on Israel’s orders, according to Israel at the request of the hospital management. The BBC reports that “sick, injured and even amputated people” had set out on foot towards southern Gaza.
Following the WHO’s criticism, the 31 premature babies were taken from Al Shifa by ambulance on Sunday and taken to a hospital in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. From there they were to be transported with their families to hospitals in Egypt on Monday.
New images of tunnel
The Israeli army announced on Sunday the discovery of a 55-kilometre-long tunnel that runs under Al Shifa. The entrance to the tunnel would not be far from the hospital. A deep staircase leads to the entrance to the tunnel shaft. Video footage shows that after about 50 meters the soldiers come across an explosion-proof door with a loophole in it.
According to Israel, such doors are often used by “Hamas terrorists to keep Israeli forces out of Hamas’ command centers and underground networks.”
Israel has long claimed that Hamas has hidden a tunnel system and a command center under the Al Shifa hospital. Hamas would use the hospital as a human shield. Now the country is providing evidence for these allegations for the first time, including by releasing videos of the tunnel.
The death toll in the Gaza Strip due to the war between Hamas and Israel has risen above 13 thousand, Palestinian authorities report. The number of injured people in Gaza now stands at 30 thousand.