A deal between Israel and the militant group Hamas to free some hostages could be reached in the coming days, although no terms have been finalized, according to some US officials.
“We think we’re closer than we’ve ever been, perhaps at any point since these negotiations began weeks ago,” US Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer told Sunday’s “State of the Union” CNN.
Officials are tight-lipped about speaking publicly about the hostage negotiations, given the sensitive and volatile nature of the talks. They have done it clearhowever, that nothing has been definitively fixed.
For example, White House officials rejected the premise of a Washington Post story reported Saturday that said an “interim deal” had been reached. The Post, citing people familiar with the negotiations, said Israel and Hamas agreed to release about 50 of the Hamas hostages and in return, Israel would temporarily halt its combat operations within five days.
After the story was published, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson posted on X, formerly Twitter, to clarify that no such agreement has officially been reached. The Post did not issue a correction until later changed the story’s headline to say the deal was “close” rather than tentatively complete.
Hamas is currently holding approximately 240 hostages. Many of the hostages are believed to be from other countries, including about a dozen Americans. Four hostages were released by Hamas after earlier negotiations arbitrated by Qatar.
As the current deal approaches a final version, here are some lingering questions and what we know so far.
When can a deal be reached?
The timeline for the deal appears to have been hours and days, not weeks.
Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog told ABC’s “This Week” that “a large number of hostages” could be freed “in the coming days.”
Deputy National Security Advisor Finer nodded to that timeframe in his CNN interview, noting that the US is working hard “in the coming hours and days” to get a deal done.
Reaching a deal this week is not certain – various factors can disrupt and prolong the negotiations. But Herzog and Finer on Sunday expressed hope that the talks will soon come to fruition.
“The less we go into the details, the better the chances of such a deal, but these are very serious efforts,” Herzog said.
What is holdup?
Negotiations are reportedly in their final stages and are now focused on working out more minor details.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said at a press conference on Sunday that many of the main points of contention on the hostage deal had been discussed and that all that was left was to work out the logistical terms.
Negotiations have stalled at various points over the past few weeks. For example, in late Octoberthe discussions broke down after Hamas refused to cooperate until Israel allowed fuel to enter Gaza.
More major sticking points have been settled, according to Finer: “There are areas of disagreement that have been narrowed, if not completely closed.”
How many hostages will be released?
Finer said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that the deal would “definitely” lead to the release of “more than dozens” of hostages.
Will an agreement lead to a ceasefire?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will not begin to consider a cease-fire until all Hamas hostages are freed.
In the current work-in-progress deal, Israel is only considering a temporary halt in attacks that would allow for the safe passage of freed hostages, not a wholesale ceasefire.
“We’re talking about stopping the fighting for a few days so we can get the hostages out. So it’s not a ceasefire,” said Herzog.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have gathered around the world in the weeks since the October 7 Hamas attack demanding a cease-fire. As the death toll in Gaza mounts, some government officials join the chorus of those demands. But Israeli officials including Netanyahu and Herzog rejected those calls, saying the ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup and regain its resources to launch another attack against Israel.