Senior Hamas officials said Tuesday that an agreement could soon be reached in which the militant group would release hostages and Israel would release Palestinian prisoners.
Israel, the United States and Qatar, which is mediating with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks over a hostage release that would be linked to a temporary ceasefire in Gaza and the provision of further humanitarian aid. Similar predictions of a hostage-taking agreement in recent weeks have proven premature.
The Israeli army is expanding operations in the northern Gaza Strip, where it battled Palestinian militants on Tuesday in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp, the territory’s largest.
The military said forces were “preparing the battlefield” in the Jabaliya area, north of Gaza City, and had killed dozens of militants in recent days. Troops discovered three tunnel shafts where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, it said.
It was not possible to independently confirm details of the fighting. An attack on a nearby hospital killed 12 people on Monday as Israeli troops and tanks battled militants outside the gates.
Israel says Hamas is using civilians and hospitals as shields, while critics say Israel’s siege and relentless airstrikes amount to collective punishment of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians after Hamas’ rampage in southern Israel on October 7.
According to Palestinian health authorities, which do not distinguish between civilian and militant deaths, more than 12,700 Palestinians have been killed since the war began – two-thirds of them women and minors. Around 4,000 people are missing.
About 1,200 people were killed in Israel, most of them during the Oct. 7 attack, and about 240 were captured by militants.
Gaza City residents were seen carrying their belongings and driving packed cars to flee on Friday after the Israeli military urged all civilians to evacuate within 24 hours.