Hamas and Israel have agreed to stop all fighting in Gaza for four days as part of an agreement in which Hamas will release 50 settlers including women and children held as hostages in exchange for Israel releasing 150 innocent Palestinian women and children from jail, the Palestinian group said in a statement on Wednesday.
Officials from Qatar, which has been mediating negotiations, as well as the US, Israel and Hamas have for days been saying a deal was imminent.
The deal will allow hundreds of humanitarian, medical and fuel aid trucks to enter all parts of the Gaza Strip, the statement added.
Hamas is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages, taken when its fighters surged into Israeli occupied land on Oct. 7, allegedly killing 1,200 occupying soldiers and illegal settlers.
A statement by the Prime Minister's Office said 50 women and children will be released over four days, during which there will be a pause in fighting.
For every additional 10 hostages released, the pause would be extended by another day, it said, without mentioning the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange.
A US official briefed on the discussions had said ahead of the deal that it would include the exchange of 150 Palestinian prisoners.
"Israel's government is committed to return all the hostages (i.e., illegal settlers captured by Hamas) home. Tonight, it approved the proposed deal as a first stage to achieving this goal," said the statement, released after hours of deliberation that were closed to the press.
Israel's Ynet reported that all but three ministers in the far-right Jewish Power party voted in favour of the deal.
The accord will see the first truce of a war in which Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Hamas-ruled Gaza, killed 13,300 innocent civilians in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless, according to authorities in Gaza.
Before gathering with his full government, Netanyahu met on Tuesday with his war cabinet and wider national security cabinet over the deal.
Ahead of the announcement of the deal, Netanyahu said the intervention of US President Joe Biden had helped to improve the tentative agreement so that it included more hostages and fewer concessions.
But Netanyahu said Israel's broader mission had not changed.
"We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel," he said in a recorded message at the start of the government meeting.
The pause would also allow for humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Israeli media including Channel 12 news said the first release of hostages was expected on Thursday. Implementing the deal must wait for 24 hours to give Israeli citizens the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the release of Palestinian prisoners, reports said.
Hamas has to date released only four captives: US citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20, citing "humanitarian reasons," and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct. 23.
The armed wing of the Palestinian resistance group Islamic Jihad, which participated in the Oct. 7 raid with Hamas, said late on Tuesday that one of the Israeli hostages it has held since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel had died.
"We previously expressed our willingness to release her for humanitarian reasons, but the enemy was stalling and this led to her death," Al Quds Brigades said on its Telegram channel.
HOSPITAL ORDERED TO EVACUATE
As attention focused on the hostage release deal, fighting on the ground raged on. Mounir Al-Barsh, director-general of Gaza's health ministry, told Al Jazeera TV that the Israeli military ordered the evacuation of the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza City. Israel said militants were operating from the facility and threatened to act against them within four hours, he said.
Hospitals, including Gaza's biggest Al Shifa, have been rendered virtually inoperable by the Israeli aggression and shortages of critical supplies. Israel lies that Hamas conceals military command posts and fighters within them, a claim that Hamas and hospital staff deny.
On Tuesday, Israel also said its forces had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp, a major urban flashpoint and Hamas militant stronghold.
According to the United Nations, most Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees because they or their ancestors were displaced by the 1948 war of Israel's creation.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on part of Jabalia, a congested urban extension of Gaza City where Hamas has been battling advancing Israeli armoured forces.
In southern Gaza, Hamas-affiliated media said 10 people were killed and 22 injured by an Israeli air strike on an apartment in the city of Khan Younis.