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Israel and Hamas consider a deal to release hostages

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

After more than six weeks of war, Israel's government has agreed to a deal that would see Hamas release some hostages held in Gaza. However, Hamas did not immediately say that it had given its approval. The proposal also calls for a temporary cease-fire that would last for a few days as the releases take place. For the latest, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, what can you tell us about this deal?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: So Israel's government met late into the night and finally approved the deal around 3 a.m. Wednesday, Israel time. This was announced in a brief government statement. Now, Hamas leaders had been saying hours earlier that the deal was very close, but they have not formally announced an approval in conjunction with Israel. We're also waiting to hear possibly from Qatar, the country that mediated this deal. Now, it calls for the release of 50 Israeli women and children who have been held by Hamas in Gaza since the attack on October 7.

And the other part of these negotiations, though it's not in the Israeli government's statement, is that Israel would release 150 Palestinian women and teenagers who are held in Israeli prisons. Now, there would still be a day before the fighting stops and these exchanges begin. And since it's already Wednesday morning here, we'd be looking probably at Thursday morning. And when this exchange does start, not all of those will be released at once. So this would play out over four days.

SUMMERS: I mean, hearing you say there that the fighting will stop in order for these exchanges to begin, that sounds significant. Say more about that.

MYRE: Oh, absolutely, Juana. This would be the first pause in the fighting since it began more than six weeks ago. And in addition, Israel is expected to allow more trucks into Gaza - up to 300 a day - with food and medicine and fuel. So this could be a pretty significant increase from what we've seen and ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And it would just mark the first significant diplomatic breakthrough since the Hamas attack six weeks ago.

SUMMERS: And we're talking here about one exchange. And if it does indeed happen, what about the remaining hostages and prisoners? Any indication as to when they might be freed?

MYRE: So the plan says the cease-fire could be extended beyond the first four days and these limited number of releases. So after the first four days, if that goes well, Hamas could then free another 10 hostages, and the cease-fire could be extended for another day, and then presumably so on and so forth. Now, the militants have about 240 hostages. So at that pace, this could take a very long time to play out. And things could go wrong, and the fighting could resume. Most of the hostages are Israelis, though there are some Americans among them and about 25 workers from Thailand, among other foreign nationals. Also, Israel is holding more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners. We don't know how many they might be willing to give up in order to get all of their hostages back.

SUMMERS: Right. I mean, we have been seeing incredibly heavy fighting for more than six weeks. Could this hostage deal perhaps change the trajectory of this war, encourage further diplomatic efforts?

MYRE: So that certainly could happen. This is likely to improve the atmosphere, if just temporarily. But it's far from certain that this will lead to further breakthroughs. Large numbers of Israeli ground troops are in northern Gaza, where they control much of the territory, and they would stay put during this temporary pause. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu says the war will go on. He said, quote, "we are at war, and we will continue the war."

SUMMERS: OK.

MYRE: Hamas has suffered considerable setbacks, but they have not been defeated.

SUMMERS: OK.

MYRE: And so even if this exchange...

SUMMERS: All right.

MYRE: ...Does work out, it doesn't guarantee that the next exchange will happen. And again, it's quite likely we will see more fighting.

SUMMERS: NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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