Israel-Hamas Truce Extended By 2 Days As More Hostages Released

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Hostages are handed over by Hamas to the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Gaza Strip © Reuters
The latest releases mean 50 women and children have been freed from captivity in Gaza. Israel in turn has released 150 Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails.
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Qatar said mediators had secured a deal to prolong the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas by two days to allow the release of more hostages held in Gaza.

The announcement on extending the original four-day pause to the Israel-Hamas war, which was due to end on Monday, February 4 after Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faced mounting domestic and international pressure to provide more time for hostages to be freed.

The Israeli military said on Monday evening a further 11 hostages had been released by Hamas. Qatar said Israel had freed a further 33 Palestinian prisoners.

Majed al-Ansari, spokesperson for the Qatari foreign ministry, announced the agreement “to extend the humanitarian truce for an additional two days in the Gaza Strip” as part of his country’s mediation between Israel and Hamas.

The Palestinian militant group confirmed it had agreed to extend the pause in fighting by two days “under the same conditions as the previous truce”.

Ansari did not specify how many hostages would be released over the next 48 hours. But negotiators had said earlier that, if the ceasefire was extended by two days, Hamas would release a further 20 women and children held in Gaza.

In return, Israel would free another 60 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

Under the ceasefire brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US last week, Hamas agreed to the staggered release of 50 women and children held in Gaza over four days. Israel in turn said it would allow more aid into the besieged strip and free 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

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Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, who was released from the Gaza Strip on November 26, is reunited with friends and family on Monday © via Reuters

Hamas and other militants seized about 240 civilians and soldiers during the group’s deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel.

The US welcomed the extension of the Israel-Hamas truce and said it would like to see the pause extended further beyond the additional two days.

“We will not stop until all of the hostages held by Hamas terrorists are released,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.

He added that the pause in hostilities, as well as enabling the release of hostages, had also facilitated “a significant surge” in humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the occupied West Bank later this week.

Blinken “will stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages, and improve protections for civilians in Gaza”, a state department official said.

He will also discuss the future of Gaza and the need for an independent Palestinian state, the official added.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told the Financial Times on Sunday that, for the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas to be extended, the Palestinian group would have to locate women and children being held by other militants, civilians and gangs in Gaza.

He said Israel had provided Qatar with a list of more than 90 women and children seized during Hamas’s October 7 attack.

But when the original hostage deal was brokered last week, it was agreed 50 women and children would be released because that was the number Hamas said it had been able to secure, said Sheikh Mohammed.

An official briefed on the negotiations said Hamas had been confident it would be able to use the initial four-day pause to locate another 20 women and children held hostage.

“The assumption is that the majority of these were being held by Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the official added, referring to a smaller militant group.

“The hope is now Hamas will be able to locate more hostages during the two-day extension.”

Izzat al Rishq, a Hamas official, told Al Araby television that the group was “working to search for the remaining missing [hostages]”.

“We are ready to negotiate over the captured occupation [Israeli] soldiers, but this file has not been opened yet,” he said. “These soldiers have a different situation, and Netanyahu knows this.”

Israeli officials said on Monday evening a further 11 hostages had arrived in Israel from Gaza, consisting of three women and eight children.

Qatar said the 11 included three French nationals, three Germans and six Argentines.

Qatar also said the 33 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel on Monday consisted of three women and 30 children.

The latest releases mean 50 women and children have been freed from captivity in Gaza. Israel in turn has released 150 Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails.

The success of the delicate hostage-for-prisoner swaps has lifted Israel’s national mood and raised hopes that the deal could be extended.

The hostage releases have received near wall-to-wall media coverage in Israel, while thousands of Palestinians have gathered each evening outside Ofer Prison, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to celebrate the prisoners’ being freed and bolstering Hamas’s political standing.

Speaking at a press conference after the release of some Israeli hostages, Noam Alon, whose girlfriend Inbar Haiman was snatched from the Nova music festival on October 7, vowed to keep up pressure for the release of more hostages “at any price”.

“We are expecting to see everyone freed, we want our government to do everything to continue the deal,” he said.

Netanyahu said on Sunday that he would “welcome” the prospect of additional hostages being freed, but also stressed that Israel was ready to resume hostilities against Hamas.

Israeli officials believe Hamas will seek a greater number of, and higher-ranking, prisoners in exchange for each hostage, over and above the initial deal.

Israeli forces have captured vast swaths of northern Gaza with an aerial bombardment and ground invasion that has killed at least 14,800 people, according to Palestinian officials, and triggered a humanitarian crisis.

About 1,200 were killed during the Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli officials.

Additional reporting by Heba Saleh in Cairo, Felicia Schwartz in Washington, Raya Jalabi in Beirut, and Erin Burnett in Georgia.

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