Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed optimism that a deal could be reached to secure the release of more hostages held by the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, where heavy fighting and a humanitarian crisis continue.
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, Netanyahu said he preferred not to comment on the details of the negotiations but hinted that military pressure was the key to creating any movement. “That’s the one thing that might create a deal,” he said.
Media outlets in the U.S. reported that Hamas could release around 80 women and children in exchange for Palestinian women and teenagers detained in Israel.
However, there was no official confirmation of this from either side.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, told ABC that the U.S. government was actively engaged in the efforts to secure a deal, with Qatar involved as a mediator.
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He said Biden would not rest until the hostages were freed.
Hamas is still holding 239 hostages, according to Israel, who were captured in a brutal attack in October.
The attack triggered a massive Israeli military response, including a ground offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The conflict has taken a heavy toll on the civilian population of Gaza, where medical facilities are struggling to cope with the influx of wounded and the lack of fuel, electricity, water and supplies.
The situation in the al-Ahli hospital, the only hospital in Gaza City still running, was described as “catastrophic” by a surgeon who said he had performed surgeries without anesthesia and that blood supplies had run out.
The hospital is also in danger of being hit by Israeli strikes, as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) claim that Hamas has an underground control centre near the hospital and is using it as a shield. Thousands of people, including some too injured to be moved, are still in the hospital, witnesses say.