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US sees signs of progress on deal to release hostages, bring temporary pause to Israel-Hamas war

U.S. negotiators are making progress on a potential agreement under which Israel would pause military operations against Hamas in Gaza for two months in exchange for the release of more than 100 hostages who were captured in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, according to two senior administration officials.

The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, said Saturday that emerging terms of the yet-to-be sealed deal would play out over two phases.

In the first phase, fighting would stop to allow for the remaining women, elderly and wounded hostages to be released by Hamas.

Israel and Hamas would then aim to work out details during the first 30 days of the pause for a second phase in which Israeli soldiers and civilian men would be released. The emerging deal also calls for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

While the proposed deal would not end the war, U.S. officials are hopeful that such an agreement could lay the groundwork for a durable resolution to the conflict.

The New York Times first reported on Saturday that progress has been made towards an agreement for a pause in fighting in exchange for the remaining hostages.

CIA director Bill Burns is expected to discuss the contours of the emerging agreement when he meets on Sunday in France with David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel for talks centered on the hostage negotiations.

President Joe Biden on Friday spoke by phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. Calls with both leaders focused on the hostage situation.

“Both leaders affirmed that a hostage deal is central to establishing a prolonged humanitarian pause in the fighting and ensure additional life-saving humanitarian assistance reaches civilians in need throughout Gaza,” the White House said in a statement about Biden’s call with the Qatari leader. “They underscored the urgency of the situation, and welcomed the close cooperation among their teams to advance recent discussions.”

Burns heads to France for the high-level talks after White House senior adviser Brett McGurk spent much of the last week in the Mideast for talks on the hostage situation.

If Burns sees progress in his talks in France, Biden is expected to dispatch McGurk back to the Mideast quickly to try to complete an agreement.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to continue the offensive until complete victory over Hamas is achieved.

Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure from the families of many hostages who are demanding a deal to win their loved ones’ release.

The Oct. 7 attack killed some 1,200 people in Israel, and Hamas and other militants abducted around 250 people.

Around 100 hostages were freed under a weeklong cease-fire deal in November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Around 130 remain captive, but a number have since been confirmed dead.

Hamas has said it will free more captives only in exchange for an end to the war and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

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Miller reported from Columbia, South Carolina.


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