American negotiators have drafted an agreement calling for the phased release of the remaining hostages captured by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, according to reporting over the weekend by the New York Times and Associated Press.
The deal would also include a two-month pause in fighting in Gaza, U.S. officials confirmed to the news outlets.
According to Israeli estimates, 108 of the hostages are still alive, while Hamas is also holding 28 bodies, 24 of which belong to hostages captured on Oct. 7 when Hamas terrorists and other Gazans broke across the Israeli border, murdering 1,200 people, wounding thousands more and kidnapping 253. A hostage deal in November saw the release of 105 captives in exchange for a temporary ceasefire and the release of around 240 Palestinian security prisoners. Five hostages were freed prior to the ceasefire, four were released by Hamas and one was rescued by Israeli forces.
In the first phase of the proposed agreement, the conflict would stop for around 30 days to allow for women, elderly and wounded hostages to be released. During that period, a potential second phase would be worked out that would see Israeli soldiers and male civilians released over another 30-day period.
Additionally, the deal would include the release of Palestinian security prisoners and the entry of more humanitarian aid into the Strip.
“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,” AP reported.
CIA Director Bill Burns is expected to discuss the framework of the agreement with Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials in Paris on Sunday. David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel will be in attendance at the French summit.
According to the Times report, if Burns makes enough progress in the Paris talks, President Joe Biden would consider dispatching Brett McGurk, the U.S. National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, to the region to finalize the deal, which could be in the next two weeks.
McGurk was in Cairo and Doha last week, where he participated in hostage release negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night reiterated Jerusalem’s commitment to destroying Hamas, returning the hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip by the terrorist group and ensuring that the enclave can never again pose a security threat to the Jewish state.
“We will never forget the atrocities of Oct. 7. We will never forget the massacre, the rapes, the murders and the mutilations. We will never forget the abductions,” Netanyahu began in an address to the nation on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“As of today, we have returned 110 of our hostages and we are committed to returning all of them home. We are dealing with this, and we are doing so around the clock, including now. We will never forgive what the Hamas monsters did to our daughters and our sons; therefore, there is no alternative to total victory. We must win—and we will win,” he continued.