Israeli government approves deal for hostage release, short cease-fire

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have approved a deal for the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas, the Israeli government said in a statement. The decision, early Wednesday local time, came after Netanyahu convened his war cabinet to discuss the deal following recent progress in the negotiations.

"The Government of Israel is obligated to return home all of the hostages. Tonight, the Government has approved the outline of the first stage of achieving this goal, according to which at least 50 hostages — women and children — will be released over four days, during which a pause in the fighting will be held," the statement reads, adding, "The release of every additional ten hostages will result in one additional day in the pause."

Hamas's leadership issued a statement on Telegram saying it agreed to the deal, which it called a "cease-fire from both parties." The group also thanked Qatar and Egypt for assisting with the deal.

According to a U.S. senior administration official, three Americans are expected to be among the 50 women and children released.

The agreement is expected to be implemented 24 hours after it is finalized — which would be early Thursday morning, local time — the official said.

Hamas wrote that the terms of the deal included the release of 50 Israeli women and children hostages in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons. They said it also required a cessation of all air traffic over south Gaza, and air traffic over north Gaza for six hours a day, and that "hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian, relief, medical and fuel aid" would be brought into all areas of the Gaza Strip "without exception, north and south."

Earlier, Netanyahu said President Biden had joined the effort to improve the outline of the deal.

"In recent days, I have spoken with our friend, U.S. President Joe Biden, and I requested his intervention in order to improve the outline that will be presented to you," Netanyahu said in a statement before the government meeting. "Indeed, it has been improved to include more hostages and at a lower cost. These talks have been productive. President Biden joined in the effort and I thank him for it."

Netanyahu called the decision before his government "a difficult decision but it is the correct decision," adding that "the security of our forces will be ensured during the pause and that the intelligence effort will be maintained in those days."

During the pause, aid will be allowed into Gaza, with 300 trucks per day carrying aid, including cooking oil for bakeries and fuel for hospitals, a source familiar told CBS News.

The deal will allow for three Palestinian prisoners to be released for each hostage held by Hamas, CBS News has confirmed. That 3-to-1 ratio is notable because there is no cap on potential prisoner releases. In other words, the more hostages Hamas finds and releases, the more Palestinians will be set free from prison.

A source familiar with the talks told CBS News that most of the Palestinian prisoners would be released to live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, though some did come from Gaza.

If the first phase goes as planned, roughly 20 more hostages will be released by Hamas and the pause in fighting extended.

Children, of whom there are believed to be around 40 among the hostages in Gaza, were to be prioritized in the first wave of captives released by Hamas. The only American child taken by Hamas is a 3-year-old girl.

Sources told CBS News that the deal was expected to see at least 75 hostages, and potentially even more, freed by Hamas in installments.

Families of hostages held by Hamas lead a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ending at a rally in front of the Knesset, on Nov. 18, 2023. Some 30,000 people joined the last portion of the 5-day march. / Credit: TAMAR SHEMESH/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images
Families of hostages held by Hamas lead a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ending at a rally in front of the Knesset, on Nov. 18, 2023. Some 30,000 people joined the last portion of the 5-day march. / Credit: TAMAR SHEMESH/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

Netanyahu stressed in his statement before the meeting that the short pause would not mean an end to the war.

"There is a lot of nonsense out there to the effect that after the pause to return our hostages, we will stop the war. Then let me make it clear: We are at war — and will continue the war," he said. "We will continue the war until we achieve all of our war aims: To eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and our missing, and ensure that there is no element in Gaza that threatens Israel."

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu's office announced that, "in light of the developments regarding the release of our abductees," he would convene his war cabinet, followed by meetings of the political-security cabinet and the full government Tuesday evening local time.

When the agreement is finalized, an operation center is expected to be set up in Doha, Qatar, to monitor the transfers. The neutral Red Crescent, part of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is expected to then take custody of the hostages from Hamas and then hand them over to the Israel Defense Forces.

Officials with knowledge of the negotiations, including President Biden, have said for days that an agreement looked increasingly close.

"We've been working on this intensively for weeks, as you all know," Mr. Biden said Tuesday at the White House. "We're now very close, very close. We could bring some of these hostages home very soon. But I don't want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it's done. And when we have more to say, we will, but things are looking good at the moment."

Israel has said that Hamas militants took about 240 hostages during their Oct. 7 rampage across southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed. Only four hostages have been released by the group so far, and another, an Israeli soldier, was rescued by her fellow troops in Gaza. Israel also said two hostages were found dead near the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza last week.

This is a developing story. Gabrielle Ake contributed reporting.

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