US President Joe Biden said he believed a hostage deal was close to completion as the war cabinet met in Tel Aviv on Monday night with family representatives of the over 239 people Hamas seized when it infiltrated southern Israel on October 7.
“I believe so,” Biden told reporters on Monday when asked if a hostage deal was near. Then he amended his answer and answered, “Yes.”
The war cabinet meeting with family representatives of the hostages ended, however, without any public announcement regarding a deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated after the meeting that "the return of the captives is a sacred mission. We are deeply obligated to it and we deal with this matter every day. We will not cease our efforts until we have completed the mission."
"I say on behalf of all of us: we are committed to this. I am responsible, together with my associates, for the return of the hostages,” Netanyahu said.
At the White House, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “We’re closer than we have ever been, but nothing is done until it’s done.”
US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters, “We have been engaged in intense negotiations over this matter,” including Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Qatar, which has close ties with Hamas, has played a mediator role. Miller said that the US has spoken with Qatari and Israeli officials as part of their efforts to secure a hostage release. Some of those help have US citizenship.
Unconfirmed reports say deal revolves around women and children
International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric traveled to Qatar on Monday to meet with the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to “advance humanitarian issues,” the Geneva-based body said in a statement.
According to unconfirmed reports, the deal in the works could include only 50 of the hostages, women and children, who would be freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian females and minors jailed for security concerns.
Among the sticking points has been the Hamas request for a five-day pause in the fighting, a step Israel is reluctant to take as it continues its military campaign to oust Hamas from Gaza. It fears that a temporary pause could become a permanent one or that it could allow Hamas to regroup and rearm.
Kirby said that one would need some form of a temporary pause, even a localized one so that hostages could be safely moved out of Gaza.
Kirby: Hamas has a genocidal goal, Israel does not
Israel continued to come under intense public security on Monday, particularly for the Palestinian death toll in Gaza, which Hamas asserts is over 13,000 due to war-related violence. The phase of the campaign in which it has entered Gaza hospitals, where Hamas has operated, and held arms and hostages, has sparked accusations that it is committing war crimes.
Kirby pushed back at such criticism, noting that the US had evidence that Hamas had used the Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a command node.
He also has harsh words for those who accuse Israel of genocide for its campaign against Hamas, in the aftermath of the group’s brutal attack on Israel on October 7 in which it killed over 1,200 people.
“This word genocide is getting thrown around in a pretty inappropriate way by a lot of folks, what Hamas wants is genocide, they want to wipe Israel off the map and they have said they are not going to stop, that what happened on October 7 will happen again,” Kirby stated.
Premature babies were evacuated to Egypt
In Gaza, 28 prematurely born babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital were taken into Egypt for urgent treatment on Monday, while Palestinian authorities and the WHO said 12 people were killed at another Gaza hospital encircled by Israeli tanks.
The newborns had been in north Gaza’s Shifa, where several others died after their incubators were knocked out amid a collapse of medical services during Israel’s military assault on Gaza City.
Live footage aired by Egypt’s Al Qahera TV showed medical staff carefully lifting infants from inside an ambulance and placing them in mobile incubators, which were then wheeled across a car park towards other ambulances.
The babies were transported on Sunday to a hospital in Rafah, on the southern border of Hamas-ruled Gaza, so their condition could be stabilized ahead of transfer to Egypt. The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said 12 had been flown on to Cairo.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said the facility in the northeast Gaza town of Beit Lahia had been hit by artillery rounds. Hospital staff denied there were any armed militants on the premises.
WHO chief Tedros said he was “appalled” by the attack that he too said had killed 12 people, including patients, citing unspecified reports.
The IDF said troops had fired back at fighters in the hospital while taking “numerous measures to minimize harm” to non-US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking to reporters during a trip to Ukraine, reaffirmed the position of the United States, Israel’s strongest ally, on the need to get humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians.
“We have said every step of the way that our expectation is that Israelis conduct their operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict,” Austin said. “They must do everything, or should do everything, that they can to get humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza.”
The UN said 69,000 liters of fuel entered Gaza from Egypt on Sunday after Israel confirmed it would start allowing the daily delivery of about 70,000 liters, “which is well below the minimum requirements for essential humanitarian operations.”
Like all other health facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian Hospital has largely ceased operations but is still sheltering patients, staff and displaced residents.
Israel has ordered the evacuation of the north, but thousands of civilians remain. Food, fuel, medicines and water have been running out.
Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.