Sunday, December 3, 2023

Hamas says ready to release 100 hostages against ceasefire

Palestinian group Hamas says it is to release 100 hostages kept in the Gaza Strip on condition of a ceasefire needed to identify the location of 50 of them, member of the movement’s Political Bureau Khalil al-Hayya has said.

“The occupation [authorities] provided the list of one hundred names of hostages. We told intermediaries that we know [the location] of just fifty among them and we need the ceasefire to find the others held by different groups,” the statement posted on the official Telegram channel of Hamas reads.

According to the Hamas version, the possibility of “releasing ten hostages every day during five days: is now being discussed”.

Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has also said Israel requested 100 women and children be released from Hamas custody.

In return, the al-Qassam Brigades offered the exchange of 200 Palestinian children and 75 women held in Israeli custody, a five-day ceasefire, and entry of humanitarian aid to the entire besieged Strip.

The al-Qassam spokesperson added that Israel is stalling on a response to their offer and that Qatar is facilitating the talks.

There are currently 200 Palestinian children and 75 women in Israeli custody. Around 239 hostages are reported to be in Gaza after the Hamas-led attacks on Israel, but it is unclear how many are still alive after Israel’s heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Al Jazeera by phone, Spokesman Osama Hamdan said that mediators have repeatedly come close to reaching an agreement on a captive release, but he accused Israel of repeatedly changing the terms at the last minute.

He stated the most recent arrangement would have seen Israel release 200 children and 75 women from Israeli jails in exchange for the release of 50 captives over a five-day period.

He added Hamas’s condition was also that Israel allow unfettered aid access to Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, including the entry of fuel into the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“When all those arrangements were done, the Israelis postponed that … It shows that they are not willing to go forward,” Hamdan told Al Jazeera.

“They did not reject [the deal]. There was an agreement about this and at the end, they added more conditions.”

He noted the Israelis were seeking more names of the captives, which he said Hamas has been unable to collect because many were taken by “different factions” in Gaza.

“If the Israeli side came back to the mediators today and said we are ready to implement [the agreement], things will go forward,” he said, adding, “I believe that the mediators are doing their best in order to bring them [the Israelis] back.”

Five hostages have been released thus far, most of them following negotiations through diplomatic channels with assistance from countries including Qatar and Egypt, and one after a ground incursion by Israeli soldiers inside Gaza.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea of any ceasefire “without the return of our hostages”. The United States has advocated instead for “humanitarian pauses” to allow civilians to flee and for aid delivery.

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