Israel believes Hamas could potentially locate some 30 more mothers and children and that the 4-day halt could be extended by extra day per each 10 Israeli hostages freed
By Jacob Magid And Tal Schneider (www.timesofisrael.com)
In an unprecedented vote early Wednesday morning, Israel’s cabinet approved an agreement to secure the release of roughly 50 hostages who were abducted into Gaza during the October 7 terror onslaught.
A government statement announcing the result of the vote did not specify how ministers voted. Despite expressing earlier opposition to the agreement, the far-right Religious Zionism party voted in favor, with only members of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit faction voting against, according to Hebrew media.
Not all details of the agreement have been formally released to the public, but an Israeli government official briefing reporters on Tuesday said the deal is expected to see the release of 50 living Israeli citizens, mostly women and children, in groups of 12-13 people per day.
In exchange, Israel has agreed to a ceasefire for at least four days for the first time since the outbreak of the war.
The government confirmed those terms of the agreement following the vote, without offering details regarding any of the other Israeli concessions.
“The Israeli government is committed to bringing all the abductees home. Tonight, the government approved the outline for the first stage of achieving this goal, under which at least 50 abductees – women and children – will be released over a span of four days, during which there will be a lull in the fighting,” the statement said.
“The release of every ten additional abductees will result in an additional day of respite,” it added.
“The Israeli government, the IDF and the security forces will continue the war to return all the abductees, complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that Gaza does not renew any threat to the State of Israel.”
Israel also agreed to release Palestinian women and minors from prison and let them return to their homes, mostly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel has avoided offering a specific number, but Hebrew media has placed the figure at 150. A Palestinian Authority minister told Al Arabiya on Tuesday that 350 jailed Palestinian minors and 82 jailed Palestinian women would be freed in the swap.
Israel also agreed to allow additional fuel into Gaza as well as significant amounts of humanitarian aid, which have not entered the enclave in large quantities due to the ongoing war.
During the meeting, which began Tuesday night and continued until early Wednesday, all Israeli security agencies — the IDF, Shin Bet, and Mossad — expressed their support for the deal. Hebrew media said this endorsement convinced several ministers who had been on the fence, including National Unity Minister Gideon Sa’ar, to back the agreement.
The government official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that certain conditions be part of the deal, including the potential release of further hostages after the four-day pause, a commitment by Hamas to identify and locate hostages held by other terror groups in the Strip, and a refusal to release Palestinian prisoners who have been convicted of murder.
Israel believes Hamas could potentially locate some 30 more Israeli mothers and children beyond the initial 50, and that the halt in fighting could be extended by a day for each group of 10 more Israeli hostages who are located and freed, the government official said. Hamas is claiming it cannot immediately track down around 10 children taken from Israel during the shock October 7 attack.
The developing hostage deal will see the release of 30 children, 8 mothers, and 12 women held by Hamas in Gaza, Hebrew media reported.
Hamas has said it has 210 of the about 240 hostages abducted last month, which includes about 40 children. Islamic Jihad is said to be holding many of the remaining hostages.
Part of the agreement will see the Red Cross given access to the abductees who will remain as hostages in Gaza, including supplying them with medicine, Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday.
Following the cabinet vote, the public will have 24 hours by law to petition against any of the planned prisoner releases, though no reversal is expected and the government official speculated that deal will go into effect on Thursday.
Channel 12 news reported that Israel demanded those released would only be Israeli citizens, ostensibly leaving out the several dozen foreign workers from east Asian countries who are among the roughly 240 hostages held in Gaza.
The government official said the deal has nothing to do with hostages who are not Israelis and that other governments may be working on separate agreements.
Hamas said during the talks on a deal that it would not release any IDF soldiers.
The deal would see a complete pause of Israel Defense Forces operations on the ground in the Gaza Strip and an end to Israeli air operations over the territory, except in the north, where they would only halt for six hours daily, sources said, including an Israeli official.
Channel 12 also reported that the Prime Minister’s Office has developed a process through which the hostages will be released and transferred to Israel.
First, Hamas is set to hand over the hostages to the Red Cross, after which they will be transferred to IDF representatives. The hostages will then undergo an initial medical check by authorities, and then be taken to one of five isolated medical centers across Israel to meet with their families.
In the fourth stage, medical and defense authorities will determine together whether at least some of the hostages can be debriefed.
In the final stage, the hostages undergo a debriefing with security officials before eventually being released.
Netanyahu said in a statement before the cabinet vote that the war against Hamas will continue until all of Israel’s goals are achieved, namely to topple the Gaza-ruling terror group, secure the release of all the hostages, and ensure that there’s no more threat from the enclave to Israel’s security.
“We are at war, and the war will continue until all our goals are achieved,” he said, adding that the hostages’ return was a “sacred priority and I am committed to it.”
“Before us is a difficult decision but the right one,” he added. “We will not rest until everyone is returned. The war has stages and the return of the hostages will have stages.”
Defense Minister Gallant said in separate statement before the meeting that Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza is a key factor in “dialing up the pressure” on Hamas to negotiate.
“Without the pressure and the continued pressure [on Hamas], there will be no chance” to secure the release of the next groups of hostages, he said, vowing that once the ceasefire is over, Israel’s operations in Gaza will resume “in full force.”
Minister Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, said the proposed hostage deal “is the basis for continuing the necessary operational efforts [in Gaza], including in the southern arena and possibly in other arenas.”
“I will say honestly – this [hostage deal] is a difficult outline, it is painful, but it is also right,” said Gantz.
Though it ended up backing the agreement, Religious Zionism said ahead of the vote that Hamas is desperate for a ceasefire and the deal gives the terror group exactly what it needs. The far-right faction claimed the agreement abandons the remaining hostages. Religious Zionism said the only way to secure the release of all hostages is through an uncompromising military approach.
In its own statement, Otzma Yehudit said that Hamas’s consent to the deal proves that it is bad and warned it would lead to an increase of international pressure on Israel not to resume fighting after the ceasefire expires.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties backed the deal along with Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s National Unity party.
Several tense exchanges occurred during the cabinet session, with Hebrew media reports saying Gantz responded angrily to Smotrich for expressing concern Hamas will seek to extend the ceasefire.
“Do you trust [Yahya] Sinwar more than us?” Gantz was quoted as saying, referring to the Hamas chief in Gaza who Israel has accused of helping mastermind the October 7 massacres.
In another exchange, Likud ministers Miki Zohar and Gila Gamliel confronted Ben Gvir for holding a faction meeting before the cabinet convened, after announcing his ultranationalist party would vote against the agreement. Gamliel reportedly stressed to Ben Gvir the importance of unity.
“But we are not united,” Ben Gvir said. “This is a decision with generational damage that will come back to hurt us badly.”
By Jacob Magid And Tal Schneider
(Times of Israel)