Israel believes that Wednesday’s raid on Al-Shifa hospital will put pressure on Hamas to finish a deal to trade dozens of Israeli captives for Palestinian prisoners, according to two senior Israeli officials.
Negotiations for a deal are underway, with the various players working on a framework of an agreement, according to the two Israeli officials, who are involved in the Israeli effort to release the hostages through a deal, as well as a third with knowledge of the matter. Under the proposal, Hamas would release 50 women and children abducted during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks for roughly the same number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.
The three officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations as did two other Israel officials who discussed the hostage negotiations.
The deal, being negotiated by Qatari, Egyptian and American officials, would also include the cessation of hostilities for several days, a so-called humanitarian pause, four of the officials said.
Hamas confirmed the broad outlines of this agreement on Tuesday but blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for delaying it.
“We want your children returned to you,” Omar Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman told reporters on Tuesday in Beirut, “but the one who is obstructing you is Netanyahu and his war government.”
In addition to about 1,200 people killed in the Oct. 7 attack, there were also 240 hostages taken to Gaza, according to Israeli officials. After the attack, Israel declared war on Hamas, which according to health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths. Freeing the hostages — and ensuring their survival during the war — is one of Israel’s declared targets but also among its most tactically difficult and politically fraught challenges.
Despite movement from both sides toward a deal, Mr. Netanyahu must first present the proposal to his government for a vote.
Until prisoners are actually being exchanged, the situation remains fluid. The swap could be scuttled by hard-liners in Israel’s government who do not want to make any deal with Hamas, or who want Israel to secure the release of more hostages.
The deal was being worked out by officials from the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar, which has hosted the Hamas political leadership in exile for years. The United States and Israel have long used Qatar as an intermediary to get messages to Hamas and to coordinate aid efforts in Gaza.
Hamas is willing to release at least 50 women and children, two of the officials said. Israel, they said, believes the total number of women and children that Hamas is holding is closer to 100 and is pushing for more hostages to be released in the deal, though so far without success.
Two of the Israeli officials said Hamas has not provided the names of the hostages it is willing to trade but that the sides have agreed that members of the same family would not be separated.
Under the proposal, some of the exchanges, they added, would take place at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza — the only functioning entrance to the enclave and the site at which Israel has allowed foreign aid to enter the strip.
An earlier proposed agreement that would have seen the release of 50 hostages in exchange for a temporary cease-fire was derailed last month, at least in part, by Israel’s decision to send ground troops into Gaza after weeks of airstrikes. But Israel believes that by taking Shifa, which it says Hamas uses as a military command center and its patients as human shields, the militant group is deprived of a key asset and more inclined to trade hostages, according to officials. Hamas and hospital officials deny its use as a military facility.
Hamas previously released a small number of hostages in two rounds last month — an American mother and her daughter who also have Israeli citizenship, and later two elderly Israeli women.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting form Beirut, Lebanon.