Israel and Hamas have reached a breakthrough deal in their ongoing conflict for a four-day humanitarian pause to allow the release of at least 50 hostages – women and children – held in Gaza, key negotiator Qatar said Wednesday, APA reports citing CNN.
The deal, which hinged on approval from Israel’s cabinet and follows weeks of negotiations that included the United States and Egypt, marks a major de-escalatory step nearly seven weeks since Israel declared war on Hamas.
The hostages will be released in exchange for a number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails, Qatar said in a statement. The start of the pause will be announced within the next 24 hours.
The pause will also allow the entry of “a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid, including fuel designated for humanitarian needs,” the statement added.
Israel’s cabinet approved the deal in the early hours of Wednesday morning following what an Israeli official told CNN was a “tense and emotional” meeting that lasted about six hours.
Hamas is holding 239 hostages in Gaza, including foreign nationals from 26 countries, according to figures from the Israeli military. The mass abductions took place during on October 7, when Hamas militants struck across the border in coordinated attacks killing around 1,200 people – the largest such attack on Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.
Both Israel and Hamas released their own separate statements earlier Wednesday.
Hamas’s statement said that 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails would be released as part of the deal.
Israel held out the potential for the truce to extend beyond the original four-day period, saying in its statement that an extra day would be added for each 10 additional hostages available for release.
It also made clear that Israel plans to resume its air and ground campaign “to complete the eradication of Hamas” once this round of hostage releases concludes.
The Israeli military is still working out the exact timing of the pause, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN Wednesday morning.
“Until we are told to do so by the Israeli government, we will continue fighting Hamas and when such a deal will come into effect, we will respect that. But we will be very vigilant on the ground,” Conricus said.
The deal followed mounting pressure on the Israeli government from the families of the hostages, who have demanded answers and action from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many of the hostages were seized at gunpoint during Hamas’ rampage of violence though border communities near the Gaza Strip and the nearby Nova music festival.
Israel responded to the attacks by imposing a blockade on Gaza that cut off supplies of food, water, medicines and fuel, and launched a relentless air and ground assault that has plunged the enclave into a dire humanitarian crisis.
More than 12,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas-run government’s press office.