The parties involved in the ongoing negotiations to secure the release of hostages that Hamas is holding in Gaza are working toward a deal that would entail a sustained, days-long pause in fighting in exchange for a large group of hostages being freed, a senior US official familiar with the talks told CNN Friday.
If a deal were to be struck, the hostages would exit Gaza in stages on a rolling basis – with priority placed on extra vulnerable groups like children and women – in a process that is expected to take multiple days, the official said.
Still, they repeatedly cautioned that the talks could at any point stall or deteriorate: “It’s been close before. There’s no certainty at all.”
Many details have yet to be worked out and it would still likely be days, even in the best-case scenario, before a deal could be reached, the official said. But even as a deal was being considered, Israel did not relent in its Gaza offensive. CNN reporters witnessed a heavy bombardment by Israeli forces in Gaza late Friday.
A senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Israeli government sees an aggressive offensive as the way to get Hamas to release hostages.
“We think the way to get our people out is through pressure. Beef up the pressure on Hamas,” former Ambassador Mark Regev said in an interview on MSNBC. “Make them understand that Israel will keep hitting them hard.”
CNN has previously reported that exchanging the hostages for Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel was a central aspect of the negotiations. Netanyahu has said there would be “no ceasefire” without the release of hostages.
The US, Israel and Hamas – with Qatar playing a significant mediating role – have been engaged in talks for weeks to free the hostages from Gaza. Qatari and Israeli officials did not respond to requests for comment. A National Security Council spokesperson told CNN they do not comment on details of negotiations regarding hostages.
Only a handful – including two American citizens – have been released so far since the start of the war. After their exit, President Joe Biden revealed that Israel had agreed to a brief pause to secure their release.
The potential for a days-long fighting pause comes at a critical moment in the conflict.
The United States and its allies have urged Israel to be strategic and clear about its goals during their ground operation in Gaza, warning against a prolonged occupation and placing an emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties, although recent weeks have seen more people killed in Gaza than during any previous conflict with Israel.
The mounting death toll has sparked growing protests across the Middle East and further afield as social media fills with imagery of the devastation Gazans are living through.
“Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in New Delhi Friday. “We want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximize the assistance that gets to them.”
“To that end, we’ll be continuing to discuss with Israel the concrete steps to be taken to advance these objectives,” Blinken added.
Administration officials argue they have had success in some areas as they work to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The White House said Thursday that Israel had agreed to move forward with daily four-hour pauses of military operations in areas of Northern Gaza.
But steady pressure by the Biden administration on Israel to refine its war plans and define its objectives in Gaza has not yielded the level of clarity many US officials want.
To this point, more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, drawing from sources in the Hamas-controlled territory.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.
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