WASHINGTON — Israel and Hamas have reached a deal for a short-term humanitarian ceasefire that will allow the release of some hostages and increase humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip, U.S. officials said late Tuesday.
President Joe Biden praised the agreement to release 50 of the approximately 240 hostages taken by Hamas during the militant group’s deadly attack on Israel in early October.
“Jill and I have been keeping all those held hostage and their loved ones close to our hearts these many weeks, and I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented,” Biden said in a late Tuesday night statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that American citizens would be among the 50 hostages released by Hamas in the coming days.
Qatar’s Ministry of Affairs said in a statement on X that the start time of the deal would be announced within 24 hours and would last four days. The deal will include an “exchange for the release of a number of Palestinian women and children” held in Israel, according to the statement.
Biden thanked the governments of Egypt and Qatar for “their critical leadership” securing the deal.
“And I appreciate the commitment that (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and his government have made in supporting an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out and to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza,” Biden said.
Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing roughly 1,200 people, including 33 Americans. U.S. officials initially reported that 20 Americans were missing after the attack and could be among the more than 200 hostages.
Four hostages have been released and an Israeli soldier was rescued in the weeks since the Hamas attack. Of those, two American hostages, a mother and daughter, were released on Oct. 20, just days after Biden visited Israel.
The death toll in the Gaza Strip is estimated to be anywhere from 11,000 to 14,000, with about half children, according to different sources, including recent reporting from the WAFA Palestine News and Info Agency.
Associated Press reports from Jerusalem on Tuesday cite Gaza officials saying they’ve lost the ability to count casualties since Israel began counterstrikes in early October. Their last official update on Nov. 10 estimated 11,078 killed.
Several House Democrats have called for a long term cease-fire. Those voices include the chamber’s only Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, whom colleagues voted to censure over Israel remarks.
Following the Hamas attack on Israel, Tlaib issued a statement mourning “Palestinian and Israeli lives lost,” but called Israeli policy “apartheid” that would lead to “resistance.”
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, who along with Tlaib supports a permanent cease-fire, praised the deal Wednesday.
“I welcome, with relief, the return of hostages to their families and pray for the return of all of them. This deal proves that diplomacy is possible,” Lee posted to X.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn wrote on X that she was “glad to hear that dozens of innocent hostages that were kidnapped and tortured by disgusting terrorists will finally be released after being held captive for over a month.”
“We must free all of the hostages,” Blackburn said. “We should be calling on Hamas to surrender. There can be no ceasefire.”
Blinken credited the “tireless diplomacy and relentless effort” of State Department officials and Middle East partners.
“While this deal marks significant progress, we will not rest as long as Hamas continues to hold hostages in Gaza,” Blinken said in a statement Tuesday night. “My highest priority is the safety and security of Americans overseas, and we will continue our efforts to secure the release of every hostage and their swift reunification with their families.”
Netanyahu said Wednesday that fighting will continue following the pause.
“There is a lot of nonsense out there to the effect that after the pause to return our hostages, we will stop the war. Then let me make it clear: We are at war — and will continue the war,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted on Israel’s government website. “We will continue the war until we achieve all of our war aims: To eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and our missing, and ensure that there is no element in Gaza that threatens Israel.”
On Sunday, Israel’s military released what it said was video footage of two foreign national hostages from inside Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital, according to multiple media reports.
Israel began raids on the hospital on Nov. 15 after claiming Hamas was using the site as a command center. American and international news organizations have not been able to independently verify the claim.
Hamas, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization in the late 1990s, seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
The latest conflict is the fifth between Israel and Hamas militants. Previous Israel-Hamas wars were in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021.