Israeli army unveils footage it says shows hostages at Gaza hospital

Israel ‘hopeful’ significant number of hostages could be freed, ambassador says

WASHINGTON: Israel is hopeful that a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas “in coming days,” Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“I’m hopeful we can have a deal in the coming days,” Herzog said.

Hamas took about 240 hostages during its cross-border rampage into Israeli communities on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to lay siege to Gaza and invade the Palestinian territory.

A deal to secure the release of some of the hostages held in Gaza is closer than ever, a White House official said on Sunday.

White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said an agreement to free “considerably more than 12” hostages would also likely include an extended pause in the fighting and allow for the distribution of humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

Fighting raged on Sunday, with Hamas battling Israeli forces trying to push into Gaza’s largest refugee camp, the day after Israeli and US officials denied a Washington Post report that a deal had been reached.

“What I can say at this point is that some of the outstanding areas of disagreement, in a very complicated, very sensitive negotiation, have been narrowed,” Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

“I believe we are closer than we have been in quite some time, maybe closer than we have been since the beginning of this process, to getting this deal done,” he added.

But Finer cautioned: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute.”

“We’re talking about considerably more than 12 (hostages),” Finer told NBC.

“This could and would likely include an extended period of a pause in the fighting, a multiple-day period,” he added. “It would enable us, we believe, to get more humanitarian assistance into Gaza. That’s a priority under any circumstances.”

Finer also said Israel should not conduct combat operations against Hamas in the south of Gaza until military planners have taken into account the safety of fleeing Palestinian civilians.

“In the event that Israel is likely to embark on combat operations, including in the south, we believe … that they have the right to do that,” Finer told CBS’ Face the Nation program in a separate interview.

“We think that their operations should not go forward until those additional civilians, have been accounted for in their military planning,” he said.

Israel’s blitz has reduced swaths of the north to rubble, while some two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been displaced to the south.

Finer urged Israel to draw lessons from its military operations in the north of Gaza and provide enhanced protections for civilians by narrowing the area of active combat and by specifying where civilians can seek refuge.

On Saturday, Israel warned civilians in parts of southern Gaza to relocate as it girds for an offensive from the north.