The Washington Post reported early Sunday that Israel and Hamas are close to a deal brokered by the United States and Qatar that will include the release of at least 50 hostages from the Gaza Strip, as well as a temporary cease-fire of at least five days, with a small group of hostages released every 24 hours.
The newspaper first reported, based on anonymous sources familiar with the details, that the parties had reached a "tentative" agreement, but the White House hastened to announce that no deal had yet been reached and that negotiations were continuing. The report later noted that two sides are "close" to a deal.
According to the Washington Post, a deal may be implemented in the coming days, if no last-minute obstacles arise. According to the newspaper, the "outlines" of the deal were agreed and a six-page document detailing the terms of the agreement was drafted. Under the draft agreement, Israel and Hamas agree to a five-day cease-fire and in exchange, an "initial" number of hostages will be released – "50 or more hostages" according to the deal, to be released in small groups every 24 hours.
The Post emphasizes that it is not yet clear how many of the total number of hostages, whose estimated number now stands at 237, will eventually be released as part of the emerging deal.
It was also reported that during the temporary cease-fire, "overhead surveillance" from the air will continue in order to monitor the activity on the ground in the Gaza Strip, though it was not specifically stated that the intelligence gathering would be done by the Israeli Air Force. In this context, CNN reported Saturday that Hamas demanded in the negotiations, in which it is represented by Qatar, that Israel not operate drones over the Gaza Strip to gather intelligence during the cease-fire. CNN relied in its report on two Israeli officials and another source familiar with the details, who said that it is unlikely that Israel would agree to this demand. According to the sources, without these UAVs, the ability to monitor Hamas activity, as well as to discover attempts to move hostages between hiding places in the Gaza Strip, would be impaired.
The White House rushed to publish a statement early on Sunday morning that appears to deny the Washington Post report. "No deal yet," Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council, said in a statement, "but we continue to work hard to get a deal."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the negotiations for the hostage deal in nationally televised statement on Saturday night, and also referred to the possibility of releasing the hostages in stages. "We want to return all the hostages, and are making the maximum effort to bring as many of them as possible, even if it is done in stages. We made a joint, unanimous decision," Netanyahu said, referring to the war cabinet, at his joint press conference with ministers Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz.
However, Netanyahu emphasized Saturday night that "as of now" there is no deal. He added that there are many unfounded rumors on the issue - and that many of the reports are not true.
"Concerning the hostages, there are many unsubstantiated rumors, many incorrect reports. I would like to make it clear: As of now, there has been no deal. But I want to promise: When there is something to say – we will report to you about it," he said, in a message to the families of the hostages, at the end of a day in which they held two large rallies - in Jerusalem at the end of a week-long march to the capital, and in Tel Aviv as part of the pressure they are trying to exert in order to free their loved ones from captivity. Netanyahu announced that the war cabinet will meet Sunday with the representatives of the families.