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A deal for the release of Israeli hostages appears close, officials say

Demonstrators call for the return of 40 children who are among the roughly 240 hostages believed held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip as they mark World Children's Day during a protest across from UNICEF offices in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday.
Oded Balilty
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AP
Demonstrators call for the return of 40 children who are among the roughly 240 hostages believed held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip as they mark World Children's Day during a protest across from UNICEF offices in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday.

TEL AVIV, Israel — A possible deal to release some of the roughly 240 hostages seized by Hamas during last month's attacks on Israel appeared to be inching forward, but the details and timing of such an agreement remains unclear.

Meanwhile, more than two dozen premature infants that had been at Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, which was damaged in fighting and has been without electricity to run its incubators, were transported to hospitals in Egypt on Monday.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said the infants — part of a group of 31 evacuated from Al-Shifa earlier — had been brought to the Emirati Hospital in Rafah City in southern Gaza before crossing into Egypt. Dr. Mohammed Salamah at Emirati told NPR that three of the newborns were determined to be in stable condition and did not need to be transferred.

Local television aired video of ambulances carrying the infants from Gaza across the border into Egypt.

Details emerge about possible deal

The hostage-release deal under discussion could come in exchange for the freedom of scores of Palestinian prisoners and a temporary pause in hostilities in the ongoing war that has killed some 1,200 Israelis and nearly 13,000 Gazans, according to Palestinian officials.

Israeli soldiers work on armored military vehicles along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, on Monday.
Ohad Zwigenberg / AP
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AP
Israeli soldiers work on armored military vehicles along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, on Monday.

Qatar's Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a moderator in the talks, described the remaining obstacles to a hostage deal as "minor." The sticking points "are more logistical, they are more practical," he said at a joint news conference with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, in Doha on Sunday.

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, also sounded cautiously optimistic, saying the sides were "closer than we have been" to a deal and that the "gaps have narrowed." However, Finer noted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

Israeli media reports have suggested negotiations involve the possible exchange of between 50 and 100 women and children held on both sides in addition to a multiday pause in the fighting.

Any deal would first need to be greenlit by Israel's cabinet after an involved approval process, which could take up to 72 hours, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli newspaper. On Monday, there was chaos outside a meeting between Israel's war cabinet and relatives of the hostages because the room was too small to accommodate all the family members.

Reports of Israeli strike on another hospital in Gaza

In northern Gaza on Monday, the Hamas-run territory's health ministry said at least a dozen people were killed at another hospital during Israeli shelling. NPR was unable to independently verify the casualties at the Indonesian Hospital.

In a statement, the Israeli army said its forces had taken gunfire from within the building. In response, "IDF troops directly targeted the specific source of enemy fire," but "no shells were fired toward the hospital," according to the statement sent to NPR.

Israel, which says hospitals in Gaza are being used as covert Hamas command posts, has faced intense international criticism for military strikes on medical facilities there.

The reported deaths at the Indonesian Hospital came after Israel's military released video it says proves that the Hamas extremist group was using Al-Shifa hospital as a base of operations. Israel says Hamas was holding some hostages at Al-Shifa, which is now controlled by Israeli forces, and that it had recovered the bodies of two of the captives near the facility.

Jordan says it is sending a field hospital to Gaza to replace those damaged or destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. Palestinian officials said it would be the first field hospital to arrive since the beginning of the war began last month.

Also, in a statement on Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he was "deeply shocked" at Saturday's killing of "dozens of people — many women and children" at two schools run by UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency that oversees Palestinians. At least one of the schools was being used as a shelter by civilians in Gaza, the U.N. says.

Scott Neuman, Brian Mann and Greg Myre reported from Tel Aviv. Jane Arraf reported from Amman, Jordan.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
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