Canada’s foreign affairs minister was watching closely Tuesday as Israel and Hamas appeared to be inching ever closer towards a potential deal to release about 50 hostages held in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier in the day, Mélanie Joly acknowledged the positive signs, but warned that difficult negotiations had been going on for weeks.
“What we expect from this deal is we want to make sure that all hostages are released, that all foreign nationals are allowed to get out of Gaza — including, of course, the around 200 Canadians that are still in Gaza,” Joly said.
“Our objective right now is that finally, humanitarian pauses (will be) allowed to happen, and we think that this potential deal could lead to a form of, eventually, a ceasefire.”
The world was watching Tuesday as Israeli cabinet members were reportedly considering a plan that would halt Israel’s offensive in Gaza for several days in exchange for the release of about 50 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas in its brazen Oct. 7 attacks.
Senior Hamas official Izzat Rishq predicted a Qatari-mediated deal could be reached in “the coming hours,” in which Israel would release Palestinian prisoners, though similar predictions in recent weeks have proven premature.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until it destroys Hamas’ military capabilities and returns all hostages, and he said the war would continue after a temporary ceasefire, if one occurs.
Netanyahu’s office said the special three-member war cabinet met Tuesday and would be followed by meetings of his security cabinet, a forum of senior security officials, and the full cabinet.
There was no word on whether a vote would take place, and details of a deal were not released. Israeli media reported that an agreement would include a five-day halt in Israel’s offensive in Gaza and the release of 50 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for some 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV said the first releases would take place Thursday or Friday and continue for several days.
The deal could bring the first pause in fighting in a devastating six-week war that started after Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel.
“We are advancing,” Netanyahu told troops during a visit to a training base. “I hope there will be good news soon.”
Joly said she spoke about a possible hostage deal with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week, and that she also discussed it Tuesday with her Qatari counterpart.
“We are still calling for humanitarian pauses, a humanitarian truce, which would lead to a potential ceasefire.”
Global Affairs Canada has said one Canadian is missing in the region, but won’t confirm if that person is being held hostage, a possibility Washington hinted at in a statement over the weekend.
Israel’s army widened its military operations Tuesday across northern Gaza, part of a retaliation campaign that the territory’s health officials say has killed more than 12,700 people.
Meanwhile, no Canadians were added Tuesday to a list of foreign nationals approved to cross into Egypt from Gaza. Ottawa says more than 450 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have been able to leave since the conflict began.
After Israel declared war on Hamas, it began an airstrike campaign and cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to the Gaza Strip, with the exception of occasional deliveries of humanitarian aid.
At a Tuesday briefing for international media, Col. Elad Goren, a spokesman for Israel military activities in Gaza, said that more than 1,400 trucks of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since the first were allowed on Oct. 21, and that more could come if unspecified logistical issues are rectified.
The UN agency for Palestinians, called UNWRA, says that before the current war about 100 trucks would enter Gaza daily, where more than 60 per cent of the population relies on the agency’s help. Since the war, Israeli officials have inspected all trucks entering Gaza to prevent Hamas from accessing more weapons.
“Our security mechanisms have the capability and the capacity to significantly increase the number of trucks entering Gaza, dependent on the improvement of the UN’s and other international organizations’ logistics,” Goren said.
“We are willing to increase dramatically the number of trucks, as the UN and the Egyptians will give us their priorities and their needs.”
Late Monday, Joly also condemned violence against Palestinians in the West Bank by Israeli settlers, who live in communities that violate international law.
As Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza, it also closed off the West Bank, with Israeli officials raiding towns, imposing curfews and arresting teenagers. The Associated Press says detainees have been beaten, and Jewish vigilantes have stormed villages.
The United Nations says Israeli settler attacks have surged at an unprecedented rate, while health authorities say settlers have killed nine Palestinians.
“Canada strongly condemns the extremist settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,” Joly posted on social media.
Canada, she added, is “gravely concerned by reports of Palestinian communities being forcibly removed from their lands in the West Bank.”
The government called on Israel and its partners to take the necessary steps to prevent further violence, protect Palestinians and “hold those responsible for the violence accountable under the law.”
The statement says the violence impedes progress toward a two-state solution where Israel and a Palestinian state exist as peaceful, autonomous countries. Israel says it has control over the territory, and foreign ministry spokesman Alex Gandler seemed to downplay Joly’s concerns.
“Israel has full control of everything that is happening inside of Israel. We’re currently in a situation of war as well,” he said Tuesday in response to Joly’s statement.
“There is no extremist violence that is currently (occurring) to our knowledge.”