Deal to free hostages, pause fighting between Israel and Hamas nears announcement

The U.S. has brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas to free dozens of hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a four or five day pause in fighting, according to three current U.S. officials and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the talks.

The people said an announcement could come from the relevant parties as soon as Tuesday — though all stressed that arrangements can always fall apart at the last moment.

Elements of the deal, including the release of some 50 hostages by Hamas, could begin within hours, they said. Two of the U.S. officials added that about 150 Palestinian prisoners will also be released from Israel as part of the arrangement.

“We’re the closest we’ve been,” said one of the U.S. officials, who like others was granted anonymity to detail a sensitive development before it was announced.

CNN reported the arrangement also includes Israel grounding surveillance drone flights for six hours a day in northern Gaza, but none of the three people POLITICO spoke to were aware that element made it into the final deal. The former official said that was “a sticking point” in negotiations.

All officials stressed that a deal isn’t final until it’s officially announced, and it’s unclear which party will first officially confirm the arrangement. While the broad outlines of the deal have been agreed to, Israel’s war cabinet still needs to formally approve it. That group is meeting Tuesday.

Release of the hostages could lead to the first sustained pause in fighting since Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,000 people. That would allow a significant increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been living for weeks without food, water and power.

The language from officials involved in painstaking talks turned optimistic in recent days. Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser, said Sunday that a deal was “closer” to being finalized than ever before. On Tuesday, a Hamas leader stated that a temporary truce was “approaching,” while the Qataris said negotiations were approaching a “critical and final stage.”

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week agreed to short, four-hour pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian assistance to flow into the enclave, he has strongly rejected the idea of a sustained cease-fire. The Biden administration agrees with Israel that a cease-fire would only help Hamas reconstitute itself.

But concern about the 239 people believed to be in captivity in Gaza, as well as about the dire humanitarian situation and rising civilian death toll in the enclave, increased pressure to act.

President Joe Biden has also been feeling the pressure. Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing to condition military aid to Israel, with some calling for a full cease-fire, as the death toll mounts. Hamas-led health authorities in Gaza report more than 11,000 people have been killed since Israel launched its retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.