Senior Hamas officials said on November 21 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.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced meetings of three key decision-making bodies to discuss “the issue of the release of hostages.”

“On the return of the hostages, we are making progress,” Netanyahu said in a meeting with Israeli soldiers. “I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not even at this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon.”

The meetings come as Hamas officials say a deal could be reached soon on a cease-fire and swap of Palestinian prisoners for hostages held by the Islamic militant group in Gaza.

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 reportedly discovered three tunnel shafts where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, it said.

It has not been possible to independently confirm details of the fighting. A strike on a nearby hospital killed 12 people on November 20 as Israeli troops and tanks battled militants outside its gates.

Critics say Israel’s siege and relentless aerial bombardment amount to collective punishment of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians after Hamas’ October 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 October 7 attack, and around 240 were taken captive by militants.

An Israeli strike in southern Lebanon on November 21 killed two journalists who were reporting for a Beirut-based TV station on military activity along the border with Israel, according to Lebanese officials and the broadcaster.

The deaths bring the number of journalists who have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began to at least 50, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most were Palestinian journalists working in the Gaza Strip.

AP Staff and MI Staff

Associated Press

Kin Cheung (AP), Oded Balilty (AP), Mahmoud Illean (AP), Ariel Schalit (AP), Ohad Zwigenberg (AP), and Leo Correa (AP)