THE release of dozens of Israeli hostages held by Hamas was “closer than ever” last night.
Israelis light candles in Tel Aviv for hostages held by Hamas in Gaza[/caption]
Nine-year-old Irish-Israeli Emily Hand is among the hostages being held by Hamas[/caption]
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I hope there will be good soon.”
US President Joe Biden also said a deal was “very, very close”.
And White House national security spokesman John Kirby said: “We’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
The two countries have been negotiating for weeks with Hamas through Qatari intermediaries and a tentative deal was last night being discussed by the Israeli government.
In return, Israel would observe a three to five-day ceasefire — during which up to 400 trucks of humanitarian aid a day will enter Gaza from Egypt.
A further 20 Hamas hostages will be freed if Israel extends the ceasefire by two days.
Ahead of meetings to discuss the deal, Mr Netanyahu added: “We are making progress.”
Mr Biden said: “My team is in the region shuttling between capitals.
“We’re now very close, very close, to bringing some of these hostages home very soon.”
And Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said: “We are very optimistic.”
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh confirmed they were “close to reaching a truce agreement”.
Under the deal, Israel will commit to halting flights over the Gaza Strip for six hours a day.
It is thought the first batch of released hostages will not include holders of foreign passports.
Latest figures suggest there are 236 Israeli captives.
Hamas terrorists took hostages when they killed 1,200 people on October 7 — the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.
Since then, Hamas says more than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed.
About two thirds of Gaza’s 2.3million people have been made homeless.
The Strip is now the deadliest war zone in the world for civilians, the International Rescue Committee says.
Joe Biden also said a deal was ‘very, very close’[/caption]