In a promising development, Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Herzog, revealed that Hamas might release a substantial number of Israeli hostages ''in coming days.'' The hostages, numbering around 240, were taken during Hamas's cross-border assault into Israel on October 7, leading to Israel's invasion of Gaza in an effort to eradicate the militant group.
Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al Thani, mentioned that only "very minor" details are pending in a potential deal between Israel and Hamas. Despite some remaining "practical and logistical" issues, a White House official described the negotiations as "very complicated" but making progress.
Reuters reported that Qatari mediators have been working on a deal to exchange 50 hostages for a three-day ceasefire, facilitating emergency aid shipments to civilians in Gaza. Currently, Hamas has released four hostages, Israel has rescued one, and two bodies have been discovered near al Shifa hospital, a site of heavy fighting.
A senior White House official emphasized the importance of completing a hostage release before substantial humanitarian aid enters Gaza. Brett McGurk, the White House's National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, stated that such a release could lead to a significant pause in fighting and a massive surge of humanitarian relief.
As the talks unfold, more than two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million population have fled their homes, with UNRWA struggling to provide basic services to those seeking shelter in schools and other facilities. The arrival of winter has further exacerbated their plight.
Despite Israel allowing UNRWA to import enough fuel to sustain humanitarian operations for a limited period, discussions continue amid Israel's preparations to expand its offensive against Hamas in Gaza's southern half. The US has urged caution, emphasizing the need to consider the safety of Palestinian civilians before undertaking combat operations.
Gaza's Hamas-run government reported a staggering toll of at least 11,500 Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardments, with an additional 2,700 missing and believed to be buried under rubble. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called the civilian death toll "staggering and unacceptable," appealing for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
Against this backdrop, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, currently on the first visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories by a Labour representative since the war erupted, stressed the importance of diplomacy in securing the release of hostages while protecting Palestinians. He emphasized the need for "hard diplomacy" with regional governments to address the humanitarian emergency and work towards a lasting cessation of violence.
[With information sourced from Sky News]