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Israeli ambassador 'hopeful' of significant hostage release


Israel is hopeful that a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas "in coming days," Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

"I'm hopeful we can have a deal in the coming days," Herzog said.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani on Sunday told a press conference in Doha that the main obstacles to a deal were now "very minor," with mainly "practical and logistical" issues to surmount.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Israel, the U.S. and Hamas were close to an agreement that the conflict would freeze combat operations for at least five days while an initial 50 or more hostages are released in batches every 24 hours, citing people familiar with the provisions.

Hamas took about 240 hostages during its assault on Israeli communities on October 7, which prompted Israel to lay siege to Gaza and invade the Palestinian territory.

So far, only four hostages taken by Hamas have been released, in two tranches. It is thought 239 people from 26 different countries are still being held, including some dual nationals.

Reuters on November 15 reported 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 had still been negotiating details.

Hopes of a breakthrough in diplomacy were high last week, but two officials in the region noted that the Israeli military's move on Al-Shifa Hospital complicated the situation, according to CBS News.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night that no deal had been reached, but U.S. President Biden's top Mideast adviser Brett McGurk in Manama described the hostage talks as intensive and ongoing before heading to Doha for meetings with the Qatari prime minister that night.

McGurk has publicly echoed Israel's call for the release of a "large number of hostages" in order to lead to a "significant pause in fighting" and what he described as a "massive" surge of humanitarian relief.

He acknowledged that one of Hamas' demands has been to receive fuel and humanitarian supplies, but didn't mention an earlier request by Hamas for the release of an undetermined number of Palestinian women and children from Israeli detention centers.

Humanitarian agencies, both NGOs and government-run, have vowed to rush emergency aid into Gaza if a humanitarian pause is agreed, but they have expressed concerns over huge difficulties since they do know how long the pause may extend, or how many crossings will be open. The logistical difficulties, given the needs and the indefinite brief pause, are described as a nightmare.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday once again called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza in response to the increasing number of deaths in the region.

(With input from agencies)

(Cover: The Israeli flag and a banner calling for release of hostages taken by Hamas in Jerusalem, Israel, November 18, 2023. /CFP)

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