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Hamas leader says militant group ‘close’ to truce agreement with Israel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has said his militant movement is nearing a truce agreement with Israel, more than six weeks after its deadly assault sparked retaliatory strikes on Gaza in which thousands have been killed.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Haniyeh said, and the group has delivered its response to Qatari mediators.

Hamas official Izzat el Reshiq told Al Jazeera that ongoing talks were for a truce that would last “a number of days” and include arrangements for the entry of aid in to Gaza, and a swap of hostages taken by Hamas for people imprisoned by Israel. Reshiq said the deal would include the release of Israeli women and children from Gaza in exchange for Palestinian women and children from “occupation prisons”.

Negotiators have been working to secure a deal to allow the release of around 240 mostly Israeli hostages who were seized on 7 October. Qatar, where Hamas has a political office and where Haniyeh is based, has been mediating.

Talk of an imminent agreement has swirled for days. Qatar’s prime minister said on Sunday that a deal to free some of the hostages in return for a temporary ceasefire hinged on “minor” practical issues, while on Monday, US president Joe Biden said he believed a deal to free the hostages was close. “I believe so,” Biden said when asked whether a hostage deal was near, and crossed his fingers.

The White House said the negotiations were in the “endgame” stage, but refused to give further details, saying it could jeopardise a successful outcome.

Observers and officials have cautioned that public statements during such negotiations are often misleading and any potential deal could easily collapse.

“Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute,” White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s Meet the Press program on Sunday. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Two sources familiar with the latest talks told Agence France-Presse that a tentative deal included a five-day truce, comprised of a ceasefire on the ground and limits to Israeli air operations over southern Gaza.

In return, between 50 and 100 prisoners held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad – a separate Palestinian militant group – would be released. They would include Israeli civilians and captives of other nationalities, but no military personnel.

Under the proposed deal, some 300 Palestinians would be released from Israeli jails, among them women and children, the sources said.

Separately, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday that its president had travelled to Qatar to meet Haniyeh “to advance humanitarian issues related to the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza”.

Hamas fighters killed around 1,200 people during their cross-border assault, most of them civilians. In response Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive, vowing to destroy Hamas and secure the release of the hostages.

According to the Hamas government in Gaza, the Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.

Another 17 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli bombardment of Nuseirat camp in central Gaza at midnight, the officials Palestinian news agency Wafa reported early on Tuesday. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry also said on Monday that at least 12 Palestinians had been killed and dozens wounded after a shell struck the second floor of the Indonesian hospital, which is surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Medics there fear the hospital, the only one which up until Monday was still able to treat patients in northern Gaza, could suffer the same fate as al-Shifa hospital, which was surrounded and raided by Israeli forces last week.

A medical worker, Marwan Abdallah, said the tanks were clearly visible from the hospital windows around 200 metres away and that Israeli snipers could be seen on nearby rooftops. “Women and children are terrified. There are constant sounds of explosions and gunfire,” he said.

Israel denied it had hit the hospital while staff deny there were any armed militants on the premises.

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