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Israel, Hamas agree to breakthrough deal on hostage release, 4-day truce

Israel agrees to hostage deal with Hamas

(CNN) — Israel and Hamas have reached a breakthrough deal in their ongoing conflict for a four-day humanitarian pause to allow the release of at least 50 hostages – women and children – held in Gaza, key negotiator Qatar said Wednesday.

The deal, which hinged on approval from Israel’s cabinet and follows weeks of negotiations that included the United States and Egypt, marks a major de-escalatory step nearly seven weeks since Israel declared war on Hamas.

The hostages will be released in exchange for a number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails, Qatar said in a statement. The start of the pause will be announced within the next 24 hours.

The pause will also allow the entry of “a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid, including fuel designated for humanitarian needs,” the statement added.

Israel’s cabinet approved the deal in the early hours of Wednesday morning following what an Israeli official told CNN was a “tense and emotional” meeting that lasted about six hours.

Hamas is holding 239 hostages in Gaza, including foreign nationals from 26 countries, according to figures from the Israeli military. The mass abductions took place during on October 7, when Hamas militants struck across the border in coordinated attacks killing around 1,200 people – the largest such attack on Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.

Both Israel and Hamas released their own separate statements earlier Wednesday.

Hamas’s statement said that 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails would be released as part of the deal.

Israel held out the potential for the truce to extend beyond the original four-day period, saying in its statement that an extra day would be added for each 10 additional hostages available for release.

It also made clear that Israel plans to resume its air and ground campaign “to complete the eradication of Hamas” once this round of hostage releases concludes.

The Israeli military is still working out the exact timing of the pause, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN Wednesday morning.

“Until we are told to do so by the Israeli government, we will continue fighting Hamas and when such a deal will come into effect, we will respect that. But we will be very vigilant on the ground,” Conricus said.

The deal followed mounting pressure on the Israeli government from the families of the hostages, who have demanded answers and action from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Many of the hostages were seized at gunpoint during Hamas’ rampage of violence though border communities near the Gaza Strip and the nearby Nova music festival.

Israel responded to the attacks by imposing a blockade on Gaza that cut off supplies of food, water, medicines and fuel, and launched a relentless air and ground assault that has plunged the enclave into a dire humanitarian crisis.

More than 12,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas-run government’s press office.

Hostages’ families anxiously await the release

Even as the details of the release remained unclear, some family members of the hostages held by Hamas expressed relief – and anticipation as they waited to learn whether their loved ones would be included in the negotiated release.

Anat Moshe Shoshany, whose grandmother was kidnapped from kibbutz Nir Oz on the back of a moped, said hearing of the hostage deal gave her “so much hope.”

“I really do hope to see someone walking out of there alive,” Shoshany said. “We want a chance to see our loved ones back. This is all we want and I really hope this is just the first step in this mess.”

Liz Hirsh Naftali, the great-aunt of Abigail Edan, a 3-year-old US citizen being held hostage by Hamas, told CNN that the situation has been “excruciating.”

“We have spent the last seven weeks, seven weeks, worrying, wondering, praying, hoping,” she said.

The family hopes Abigail, who is the youngest American hostage held by Hamas, can come home by Friday, her fourth birthday.

“We need to see Abigail come out and then we will be able to believe it,” Naftali added.

Three Americans could be among the 50 women and children freed as part of the deal, senior US officials said. Ten Americans remain unaccounted for, including two women and a 3-year-old girl, according to a senior administration official. The official didn’t name the girl.

While the deal stipulates the release of at least 50 hostages it “incentivizes the release of everybody,” according to the official.

“The hostages deal, as it is structured, includes a pause, a humanitarian pause over a number of days, four to five days at least. And there’s the potential with additional releases for that to be for that to be extended, but that will also be dependent upon Hamas releasing additional hostages,” the official said.

A US official also said there are “various locations where the hostages will be brought out,” but declined to provide further detail.

The IDF spokesperson Conricus said the list of hostages to be released in the deal are all Israelis – some with dual nationalities. He added that the Palestinian prisoners set to be released are “not serious offenders.”

The total number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails is approximately 8,300, according to Qadura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a non-governmental organization.

Of those 8,300, more than 3,000 are being held in what Israel calls “administrative detention,” which means they are being held without knowing the charges against them or an ongoing legal process.

Just a handful of hostages have been released prior to the deal. On October 20, two Americans – Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie Raanan – were freed on humanitarian grounds following negotiations between Qatar and Hamas.

Soon after, two Israeli women, Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifshitz, were also released.