US 'closer than' ever to Gaza hostage deal, says White House

US 'closer than' ever to Gaza hostage deal, says White House

Number of US citizens that Washington evacuated from Gaza through Rafah crossing is now up to 800, says spokesman

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) - The US is actively engaged in negotiations to secure the release of hostages in Gaza, said the White House on Monday, stressing that they have guarded hope.

"We believe we're closer than we've ever been. So we're hopeful," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing at the White House.

He said there is still work to be done, adding that "nothing is done until it's all done. So we're working on it.”

The statement came amid reports from Israeli public broadcaster KAN that Tel Aviv had proposed a prisoner swap deal with Hamas; it is not known if the US was involved in that reported deal.

Hours earlier, President Joe Biden said he believes a deal to free hostages in Gaza is near.

"I believe so," Biden responded when asked if a deal to release hostages in Gaza is near during the annual Thanksgiving turkey “pardon” ceremony at the White House.

But he was tight-lipped on further details, stating that he was "not prepared to talk."

Meanwhile, Kirby said the total number of US citizens that Washington has evacuated from Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing is now up to 800.

"We're continuing to work on that every day," said Kirby.

- 'Genocide' accusations

Kirby also tried to counter the accusations of "genocide" in Gaza, saying the word "genocide" is being thrown "around in a pretty inappropriate way by lots of different folks."

Kirby claimed that it was Hamas which wanted a "genocide," citing the Oct. 7 attacks that killed around 1,000 Israelis, followed by Israeli attacks that have so far killed over 13,0000.

"Israel is not trying to wipe the Palestinian people off the map. Israel is not trying to wipe Gaza off the map. Israel is trying to defend itself against a genocidal terrorist threat. So if we’re going to start using that word, fine. Let’s use it appropriately," Kirby said.

He continued: "Yes, there are too many civilian casualties in Gaza. Yes, the numbers are too high. Yes, too many families are grieving. And yes, we continue to urge the Israelis to be as careful and cautious as possible. That's not going to stop," he added.

Many activists have accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza due to its strikes that mostly leave civilians dead or seriously injured.

Authorities in Gaza on Monday said the death toll from the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza since Oct. 7 has jumped to over 13,300. In a statement, the Gaza-based government media office said the death toll includes 5,600 children and 3,550 women.

Since a cross-border attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, Israel has launched relentless air and ground attacks in the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of buildings, including hospitals, mosques, and churches, have also been damaged or destroyed in Israel’s air and ground attacks on the besieged enclave.

The Israeli death toll, meanwhile, is around 1,200, according to official figures.

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