(AP) - Senior Hamas officials said Tuesday that an agreement could be reached soon in which the militant group would release hostages and Israel would free Palestinian prisoners.
Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks over a hostage release that would be paired with a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the entry of more humanitarian aid. Similar predictions of a hostage agreement in recent weeks have proven premature.
Israel's army is widening its operations across northern Gaza, where they battled Palestinian militants on Tuesday in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp, the territory's largest.
The military said forces are "preparing the battlefield" in the Jabaliya area, just north of Gaza City, and have killed dozens of militants in recent days. Troops discovered three tunnel shafts where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, it said.
It wasn't possible to independently confirm details of the fighting. A strike on a nearby hospital killed 12 people on Monday as Israeli troops and tanks battled militants outside its gates.
Israel says Hamas uses civilians and hospitals as shields, while critics say Israel’s siege and relentless aerial bombardment amount to collective punishment of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians after Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel.
More than 12,700 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and minors — have been killed since the war began, according to Palestinian health authorities, who do not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths. About 4,000 people are reported missing.
Some 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, mostly during the Oct. 7 attack, and around 240 were taken captive by militants.
Key Israeli decision-making bodies to meet to discuss ‘issue of release of hostages’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has announced meetings of three key decision-making bodies late Tuesday to discuss "the issue of the release of hostages."
A statement released by Netanyahu’s office said the special war Cabinet will convene at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), followed by meetings of the broader Security Cabinet and then the full Cabinet.
It gave no further details, but the various bodies are required to approve important government decisions.
The meetings come as Hamas officials say a deal could be reached soon on a cease-fire and swap of Palestinian prisoners for hostages held by the Islamic militant group in Gaza.