DOHA: Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said on Sunday he had growing confidence that a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas would be reached, adding challenges that remained were “very minor.”
“The challenges facing the agreement are just practical and logistical,” Sheikh Mohammed said at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Doha.
His comments followed a Washington Post report, citing people familiar with the deal, claiming that Israel, the United States and Hamas militants had reached a tentative agreement to free dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US officials said no deal had been reached yet.
“The efforts are still ongoing … and we communicate with both parties, whether it’s with the Israelis or with Hamas, and we see there is a good progress especially happened in the last few days,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
“The deal is going through ups and downs from time to time throughout the last few weeks. But I think that you know I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal that can bring the people safely back to their home.”
The hostage release could begin within the next several days, barring last-minute hitches, according to people familiar with the detailed, six-page agreement, the paper said on Saturday.
The report comes as Israel appears to be preparing to expand its offensive against Hamas militants to southern Gaza after air strikes killed dozens of Palestinians, including civilians reported to be sheltering at two schools.
Under the agreement, all parties would freeze combat operations for at least five days while 50 or more hostages are released in groups every 24 hours, the Post reported. Hamas took about 240 hostages during its Oct. 7 rampage inside Israel that killed 1,200 people.
The pause also is intended to allow a significant amount of humanitarian aid in, the newspaper said, adding the outline for the deal was put together during weeks of talks in Qatar.