Saturday May 25, 2024

Israeli ministers convene to vote on hostage deal

Published : 22 Nov 2023, 02:32

  DF News Desk
This photo released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Nov. 16, 2023 shows Israeli troops conducting military operations in western Gaza City. Photo: IDF/Handout via Xinhua.

Israeli ministers met on Tuesday night in a bid to approve a Qatari-mediated deal to release dozens of the children and women held hostage by the Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, reported Xinhua.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wartime cabinet gathered for a special meeting in the evening, followed by a meeting of his extended security cabinet and his government.

The release of Palestinian prisoners is a highly contested issue in Israeli society. As part of the regular procedure in Israel, any potential swap deal that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners needs to be brought for a vote in both the security cabinet and the government.

At 10:30 p.m. local time (2030 GMT), the ministers were still deliberating. Meanwhile, hundreds of relatives of hostages rallied outside the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, where the ministers convened to vote on the deal.

Live TV broadcasts showed demonstrators carrying posters with photos of their loved ones and chanting "Bring them home!" Several protesters, whose loved ones were reportedly not on the list of hostages supposed to be released in the upcoming deal, burst into tears.

Two far-right Israeli parties, headed by ultranationalist settler leaders who are members of Netanyahu's coalition government, announced they would not support the deal. The Jewish Power party demanded the release of all hostages "on our terms," while the Religious Zionism Party called for continuing the attacks in Gaza until Hamas "completely surrenders."

In broadcast statements at the beginning of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu urged the ministers to accept the deal.

"The decision tonight is a tough one, but it's the right one," he said.

He added that Israeli forces would resume fighting right after the pause "until we achieve our goals: destroying Hamas and returning all of the hostages."

A government official confirmed to Xinhua that under the proposed deal, at least 50 children and women would be freed in exchange for the release of about 150 female and teen Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. Israel also agreed to a four-day ceasefire.

Israel is pressing to include the release of 30 more children whom it believes are being held in Gaza by other militant groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed group, and even in private homes. Under the deal, if Hamas locates these children, Israel will agree to another day of ceasefire for every 10 released children.

The first hostages and prisoners would be released on Thursday or the weekend, said the official. During the pause, the Israeli forces, including tens of thousands of troops, will remain in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group's officials are "close to reaching a truce agreement" with Israel, and that Hamas has delivered its response to Qatar, according to a report by Israel's state-owned Kan TV news.

More than 240 hostages, comprising civilians, soldiers, children, women and the elderly of various nationalities, were taken to Gaza by Hamas militants in their surprise raid on Israel on Oct. 7, during which about 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians. In the massive offensive against Gaza launched by Israeli troops, so far 14,128 Palestinians have been killed, primarily civilians, according to the Gaza-based Health Ministry.