The Post had reported on Saturday that a tentative deal had been reached, but this was denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. officials, with a White House spokesperson saying efforts were continuing to clinch a deal. On Sunday, however, Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" that
Israel was hopeful a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas "in coming days."
Hamas took about 240 hostages during its deadly cross-border rampage into Israeli communities on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to lay siege to Gaza and invade the Palestinian territory to eradicate its ruling Islamist group.
Reuters reported on Nov. 15 that Qatari mediators had been seeking a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire, citing an official briefed on the talks. At the time, the official said general outlines had been agreed but Israel was still negotiating details.
On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main sticking points blocking a hostage release deal were now "very minor" - mainly practical and logistical issues.
Israeli tanks and troops stormed into Gaza late last month after a devastating aerial blitz in response to Hamas's shock Oct. 7 attack, and say they have wrested control of large areas of the north and northwest and east around Gaza City. But guerrilla-style Hamas resistance remains fierce in pockets of the heavily urbanised north, including parts of Gaza City and the sprawling Jabalia and Beach refugee camps, according to Hamas and local witnesses.
Witnesses reported heavy fighting overnight between Hamas gunmen and Israeli ground forces trying to advance into Jabalia, the largest of the enclave's camps with nearly 100,000 people.
Jabalia has come under repeated Israeli bombardment that has killed scores of civilians, Palestinian medics say. Israel says the strikes have killed many militants sheltering there. Via social media in Arabic, Israel's military on Sunday urged residents of several Jabalia neighborhoods to evacuate
towards south Gaza "to preserve your safety" and to that end said it would pause military action from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. After the "pause" period expired, 11 Palestinians in Jabalia were killed by an Israeli air strike on a house, the enclave's health ministry said.
Air Strikes in Central Gaza
In the centre of the narrow coastal enclave, Palestinian medics said 31 people were killed, including two local journalists, in Israeli air strikes targeting a number of houses in the Bureij and Nusseirat refugee camps late on Saturday night. Another air strike killed a woman and her child overnight
in the main southern city of Khan Younis, they said.
In Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, dozens of Palestinians marched to a funeral for 15 residents killed in an Israeli strike on an apartment block on Saturday. "Our youth are dying, women and children are dying, where are the Arab presidents?" wailed Heydaya Asfour, a relative of some of the dead.
The Israeli army says Hamas uses residential and other civilian buildings as cover for command centers, weapons caches rocket launchpads and a vast underground tunnel network. The Islamist movement denies using human shields to wage war.
Saturday, the military said, without giving details. A total of 62 soldiers have died in fighting, according to army tallies.
'Death Zone' at Gaza's Biggest Hospital
A team led by the World Health Organization that visited Al Shifa, Gaza's biggest hospital, described it as a "death zone," days after advancing Israeli forces seized the premises to root out an alleged underground Hamas command center. The WHO team reported signs of gunfire and shelling and a mass grave at Al Shifa's entrance, and said it was making plans for the immediate evacuation of 291 remaining patients, including the war-wounded, and 25 staff.
Hundreds of other patients, staff and displaced people who were sheltering in Al Shifa left on Saturday, with Palestinian health officials saying they were ejected inhumanely by Israeli troops and the military saying the departures were voluntary.