President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he believes a deal can be reached to release hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, voicing optimism as officials tell CNN prolonged talks to free hostages are nearing an agreement.
“I’ve been talking with the people involved every single day. I believe it’s going to happen. But I don’t want to get into detail,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
The White House said Tuesday night that Biden had “discussed at length” efforts to free hostages with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call earlier in the day.
A senior US official familiar with the talks told CNN on Tuesday that Israel and Hamas are moving closer to a deal to secure the release of hostages taken during the Hamas attacks on Israel in exchange for a sustained, days-long pause in fighting.
The official stressed that while the parties have inched closer to striking a deal, the talks remained volatile and could still break down: “It’s closer but it’s not done.” One European diplomat on Monday expressed optimism that some hostages could be released in the coming days or weeks.
The broad parameters that are currently being discussed entail Hamas releasing a large group of hostages at the same time Israel frees Palestinian prisoners. The hostages-for-prisoners exchange would take place in the course of a sustained, days-long pause in fighting that could last as long as five days, but many details, including the duration of a pause, remain in flux.
Asked Tuesday for his message for families waiting for news on their captive loved ones, Biden said: “Hang in there. We’re coming.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens met on Monday evening in Washington, DC, with family members of some of the US hostages, a US official told CNN. The family members were in town for a pro-Israel march on Tuesday.
Israel recently asked for 100 hostages to be released, according to a Hamas spokesman and a source familiar with the negotiations.
An overnight statement from the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said negotiations were focusing on the possible release of 70 women and children in exchange for a pause in the fighting of five days.
A senior Israeli official told that CNN hostage negotiations are ongoing – and are being handled by Qatar, the CIA, and Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad.
The official acknowledged Hamas is looking to release as few people as possible in exchange for the longest possible ceasefire but said Israel would agree to one if there were a serious deal on offer. “But it has to be a serious deal,” the official stressed.
The Israeli official viewed the pressure on Hamas as successful, saying there could be progress in the negotiations, and the situation could develop quickly.
Netanyahu told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, “We’re doing everything we can around the clock” to free the hostages, but he said he could not go into any details.
As CNN previously reported, in the deal currently being discussed, hostages would exit Gaza in stages on a rolling basis – with priority placed on extra vulnerable groups like children and women. The process is expected to take multiple days.
Only a handful of hostages – including two American citizens – have been released so far since the start of the war. After their exit, Biden revealed that Israel had agreed to a brief pause to secure their release.
One of the complications in the ongoing talks has been verifying the list of names of both hostages and Palestinian prisoners that Hamas and Israel would respectively release as part of the deal, two officials told CNN. Israel wants to make sure none of the prisoners released are connected to Hamas and has been scrutinizing names proposed as part of the process.
Another factor that had slowed talks was a lack of information about the hostages Hamas is holding. Because other groups in Gaza, like Islamic Jihad, are believed to have taken hostages, it wasn’t clear to negotiators who exactly Hamas would be able to release as part of a deal.
Throughout the process, the ongoing fighting and logistical problems have slowed down the negotiations, including communication blackouts in Gaza that prevented Hamas leaders on the strip from talking to their political leaders in Qatar.
The complicated indirect diplomacy, involving mediators from Qatar, has meant it could at times take hours and even days for messages to be exchanged among all the parties.
The indirect style of negotiating is cumbersome, one US official acknowledged, but necessary.