Palestinians in Gaza said they were praying for an extension of the truce (File)
A senior Egyptian official said on Monday that Egypt and Qatar were close to securing a deal to extend a truce between Israeli and Hamas forces in Gaza by two days, continuing a pause in seven weeks of warfare that has killed thousands and laid waste to the Palestinian enclave.
Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt's State Information Service (SIS), said the extension would include the release of 20 Israeli hostages from among those seized by Hamas during its Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel. In exchange 60 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails would be freed, he said.
The truce is due to end on Monday night.
With the release of 11 Israeli hostages expected on Monday, negotiations remain ongoing for the release of 33 Palestinians, Rashwan added.
Earlier, Hamas was reported to be seeking a four-day extension while Israel wanted day-by-day extensions.
An Israeli official reiterated Israel's position that it would agree to an extra day of truce for the release of each group of 10 hostages. In exchange, three times the number of Palestinian prisoners would be released each time. The limit would be five days, the official added.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said an extension was within reach and this could allow the international community to work on a political solution to the conflict.
The truce agreed last week was the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages back into Gaza.
In response to that attack, Israel has bombarded the enclave and mounted a ground offensive in the north. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Wide areas of the Hamas-ruled enclave have been flattened by Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardments, and a humanitarian crisis has unfolded as supplies of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run out.
On Sunday, Hamas freed 17 people, including a 4-year-old Israeli-American girl, bringing the total number the militant group has released since Friday to 58, including foreigners. Israel freed 39 teenage Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, taking the total number of Palestinians freed under the truce to 117.
Under the terms of the current deal, Hamas is due to release in total 50 Israeli women and children held hostage in Gaza. There is no limit in the deal on the number of foreigners it can release.
An Israeli government spokesperson said the total number of hostages still held in Gaza on Monday was 184, including 14 foreigners and 80 Israelis with dual nationality.
Both Israel and Hamas raised concerns over Monday's lists and Qatari mediators were working with them to resolve the issues and avoid delays, an official briefed on the matter told Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it was reviewing the list of Palestinian prisoners it had received from Hamas for release on Monday and would provide further information when possible.
Netanyahu said at the weekend that once the truce ends, "we will return with full force to achieve our goals: the elimination of Hamas; ensuring that Gaza does not return to what it was; and of course the release of all our hostages."
Palestinians in Gaza said on Monday they were praying for an extension of the truce. Some were visiting homes reduced to rubble by weeks of intensive Israeli bombardment, while others queued for flour and other essential aid being delivered by the United Nations' relief agency UNRWA.
UNRWA was awaiting Israeli clearance on Monday to send aid trucks and ambulances into northern Gaza.
"Too many people have lost their lives, too many people have lost their houses, so we welcome this ceasefire. We hope that this ceasefire is extended," Thomas White, the director of UNRWA affairs, told Reuters.
Palestinians gave the freed prisoners a jubilant reception in Ramallah, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Omar Abdullah Al Hajj, 17, released on Sunday, told Reuters he had been kept in the dark about what was happening in the outside world.
"We were 11 people crammed into a single room where usually there are six. There was never enough food and I was never told how long I was going to stay," he said.
"I can't believe I'm free now but my joy is incomplete because we still have our brothers who remain in prison," said Al Hajj.
Israel's Justice Ministry accused him of belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group and posing a security threat which it did not specify.
Speaking at a conference in Barcelona on the Gaza crisis, the EU's Borrell said the Palestinian Authority (PA) - which runs the occupied West Bank - should regain control of Gaza from Hamas as it offered a "better" alternative.
The EU, the United States, Britain, and others classify Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
Borrell also urged Israel not to "recolonise Gaza", saying that the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza was the best guarantee of Israel's peace and security.
Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told the same conference that the events in Gaza were within the realm of the legal definition of genocide, and called for an end to all killings and displacements of people in Gaza.
Israel says it is acting in self-defence against a foe bent on its destruction.
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