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Live updates | Hamas officials say hostage agreement could be reached soon

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Senior Hamas officials said Tuesday that an agreement could be reached soon in which the militant group would release hostages and Israel would free Palestinian prisoners.

Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks over a hostage release that would be paired with a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the entry of more humanitarian aid. Similar predictions of a hostage agreement in recent weeks have proven premature.

Israel's army is widening its operations across northern Gaza, where they battled Palestinian militants on Tuesday in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp, the territory's largest.

The military said forces are “preparing the battlefield” in the Jabaliya area, just north of Gaza City, and have killed dozens of militants in recent days. Troops discovered three tunnel shafts where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, it said.

It wasn't possible to independently confirm details of the fighting. A strike on a nearby hospital killed 12 people on Monday as Israeli troops and tanks battled militants outside its gates.

Israel says Hamas uses civilians and hospitals as shields, while critics say Israel’s siege and relentless aerial bombardment amount to collective punishment of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians after Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel.

More than 12,700 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and minors — have been killed since the war began, according to Palestinian health authorities, who do not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths. About 4,000 people are reported missing.

Some 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, mostly during the Oct. 7 attack, and around 240 were taken captive by militants.

Currently:

— Israel reveals signs of Hamas activity at Shifa, but a promised command center remains elusive

— AP Photos: Babies born prematurely in Gaza have been evacuated to Egypt

— Cyprus’ president says his country is ready to ship aid to Gaza

— Ukrainians who fled their country for Israel find themselves again living with war

— Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s what's happening in the latest Israel-Hamas war:

HAMAS OFFICIAL SAYS AGREEMENT ON HOSTAGE RELEASE COULD COME SOON

BEIRUT -- Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks over a hostage release that would be paired with a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the entry of more humanitarian aid.

Hamas has released four hostages, Israel has rescued one, and the bodies of two were found near Shifa.

Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, said Tuesday that an agreement could be reached “in the coming hours” in which Hamas would release captives and Israel would release Palestinian prisoners. Hamas’ leader in exile, Ismail Haniyeh, also said they were close to a deal, but similar predictions in recent weeks have proven premature.

Israel’s three-member war Cabinet met with representatives of the hostages’ families on Monday evening. A relative of a hostage said the officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told families the government considers the release of hostages and the defeat of Hamas to be “equally important.”

Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Chaimi is in captivity in Gaza, said that was “incredibly disappointing” for the families, as Israel has said it could take months to dismantle the militant group.

“We will not stop fighting until we bring the hostages home, destroy Hamas and ensure that there is no more of a threat from Gaza,” Netanyahu said on social media after the meeting.

Hamas gunmen and their allies captured more 240 hostages during their deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which they also killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

ISRAEL RECALLS AMBASSABOR TO SOUTH AFRICA AHEAD OF VOTE ON FATE OF EMBASSY

JOHANNESBURG — Israel has recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, ahead of a parliamentary vote in the African country to decide the fate of the Israeli Embassy.

Tensions have risen between the two countries over Israel's war in Gaza. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said his country believes Israel is committing war crimes and genocide in Gaza, where thousands of Palestinians have been killed.

“Following the latest South African statements, the Ambassador of Israel to Pretoria has been recalled to Jerusalem for consultations,” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

South Africa’s parliament is to vote on a motion to shut down the Israeli Embassy and cut all ties with Israel until a cease-fire is implemented in Gaza.

The motion introduced by the leftist opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters has the backing of the governing African National Congress and other smaller parties.

South Africa announced last week that it has referred what it called Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza to the International Criminal Court for an investigation, with its Cabinet calling on the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

AWARD-WINNING PALESTINIAN POET ARRESTED BY ISRAELI TROOPS, BROTHER SAYS

TEL AVIV, Israel — The brother of an award-winning Palestinian poet in Gaza says he has been arrested by Israeli troops and his whereabouts are unknown.

Mosab Abu Toha has been contributing pieces to Western media since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, painting a dire image of its toll on civilians through his personal experience. His brother, Hamza Abu Toha, posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday that Mosab was arrested while evacuating to southern Gaza, following Israeli military orders. Hamza said his brother’s wife and children were allowed to continue south, but “the military detained my brother.”

Mosab Abu Toha last posted on X on Nov. 15, writing “Alive. Thanks for your prayers.”

The literary and free expression organization PEN said it was concerned about the arrest and demanded to know Abu Toha’s whereabouts and the reason for his arrest. The New Yorker magazine, to which Abu Toha has contributed multiple articles, called for his safe return.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.

INDONESIA CONDEMNS ISRAELI ATTACK ON HOSPITAL IN GAZA

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia strongly condemns the Israeli attack on the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza which killed a number of civilians, its foreign minister said.

“The attack is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. All countries, especially those that have close relations with Israel, must use all their influence and capabilities to urge Israel to stop its atrocities,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said in a statement Monday.

The ministry said it has lost contact with three Indonesian citizens who were volunteers at the Indonesian Hospital, which is funded by Indonesia, and is seeking information about them from the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

About 200 people were evacuated from the hospital after it was caught up in fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants on Monday.

Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesperson for Hamas’ Health Ministry, said the evacuees were taken to southern Gaza in a rescue effort coordinated by the U.N. and Red Cross. Many of the injured evacuees are being treated at al-Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, he said.

Between 400 and 500 more wounded people remain at Indonesian Hospital, al-Qudra said in an interview with Al-Jazeera.

The evacuations came after 12 people were killed when a shell struck the second floor of the hospital, according to the Health Ministry and a medical worker at the hospital. Both blamed Israel, which denied shelling the hospital, saying its troops returned fire at militants who targeted them from inside the compound.

WHO SAYS MOST GAZA HOSPITALS NO LONGER FUNCTIONING

GENEVA — The World Health Organization warned Monday that health services in Gaza had suffered “catastrophic” damage, with most hospitals no longer functioning.

“We now have 1.7 million people displaced so we have twice or three times the population (in the south of Gaza), using one third of the hospital beds in less than a third of the hospitals available,” Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said at a U.N. briefing.

Ryan said medical services in the territory were already unable to provide care for more complex cases -– including most cancer and kidney dialysis patients -– and would likely be overwhelmed by some 5,500 births expected in the next month.

Plans by the Israeli military to push further south would worsen health conditions even further, he said.

“The hospital situation -– the primary health care system situation -– in Gaza is catastrophic and it is the worst you can imagine (in the) north," Ryan said.