Minutes Before Ceasefire Deadline, Israel-Hamas Renew Hostage Swap Deal

Hamas meanwhile said there was an agreement to "extend the truce for a seventh day," without further details.

Minutes Before Ceasefire Deadline, Israel-Hamas Renew Hostage Swap Deal

Details of any official agreement remained unclear. (File)


A truce between Israel and Hamas was extended on Thursday just before it was due to expire, the two sides announced, with mediator Qatar reporting it would continue for one day under the same conditions that saw hostages released in exchange for prisoners.

Minutes before the halt in fighting was due to expire at 0500 GMT, Israel's military said the truce would be prolonged.

"In light of the mediators' efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the framework, the operational pause will continue," it said.

The prime minister's office subsequently confirmed the extension, saying it had received a new list of hostages.

"A short time ago, Israel was given a list of women and children in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and therefore the truce will continue," it said, without specifying the number of captives to be freed.

Hamas said there was an agreement to "extend the truce for a seventh day," without further details.

It had earlier said Israel initially refused to extend the truce after it offered to hand over seven hostages and the bodies of three more.

Qatar, which has led the truce negotiations supported by Egypt and the United States, confirmed the pause had been extended for a day "under the same previous conditions."

Blinken in Israel

The announcement came hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Wednesday night, and with growing pressure for an extension of the pause.

The truce agreement has brought a temporary halt to fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas militants broke through Gaza's militarised border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240, according to Israeli authorities.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and unleashed a relentless air and ground military campaign that the Hamas government says has killed nearly 15,000 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, and reduced large parts of the north of the territory to rubble.

The truce agreement allows for extensions if Hamas can release another 10 hostages a day, but earlier both sides warned they were ready to return to fighting.

Hamas's armed wing told its fighters to "maintain high military readiness... in anticipation of a resumption of combat if it is not renewed," according to a message posted on its Telegram channel.

And Israeli army spokesman Doron Spielman said troops would "move into operational mode very quickly and continue with our targets in Gaza" if the truce expired.

Late Wednesday, 10 more Israeli hostages were freed under the terms of the deal, with another four Thai hostages and two Israeli-Russian women released outside the framework of the arrangement.

Video released by Hamas showed masked gunmen handing hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Among those freed was Liat Beinin, who also holds American citizenship, and works as a guide at Israel's Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

US President Joe Biden said he was "deeply gratified" by the release.

"This deal has delivered meaningful results," he said of the truce.

'Sustained humanitarian truce'

Shortly after the hostages arrived in Israel, the country's prison service said 30 Palestinian prisoners had been released, including well-known activist Ahed Tamimi.

Since the truce began on November 24, 70 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners.

A number of foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, have been freed outside the terms of the deal.

Israel has made clear it sees the truce as a temporary halt intended to free hostages, but there are growing calls for a more sustained pause in fighting.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded a "true humanitarian ceasefire", warning Gazans are "in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe."

And China, whose top diplomat Wang Yi was in New York for UN Security Council talks on the violence, urged an immediate "sustained humanitarian truce", in a position paper released Thursday.

The hostage releases have brought joy tinged with agony, with families anxiously waiting each night to learn if their loved ones will be freed, and learning harrowing details from those who return.

Four-year-old Abigail was captured after crawling out from under the body of her father, killed by militants, covered in his blood, her great aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali said.

"It's a miracle," she said of the little girl's survival and release.

Israel's army, however, also said Wednesday it was investigating a claim by Hamas's armed wing that a 10-month-old baby hostage, his four-year-old brother and their mother had all been killed in an Israeli bombing in Gaza.

'Everything is gone'

Israel pounded the Gaza Strip relentlessly before the truce, forcing an estimated 1.7 million people -- around 80 percent of Gaza's population -- to leave their homes and limiting the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel.

Conditions in the territory remain "catastrophic", according to the World Food Programme, and the population faces a "high risk of famine".

Israeli forces targeted several hospitals in northern Gaza during the fighting, accusing Hamas of using them for military purposes, a charge the militants denied.

The spokesman for the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry, Ashraf al-Qudra, told AFP Wednesday that doctors found five premature babies dead in Gaza City's Al-Nasr hospital, which medical staff had been forced to abandon.

The truce has allowed those displaced to return to their homes, but for many there is little left.

"I discovered that my house had been completely destroyed -- 27 years of my life to build it and everything is gone," said Taghrid al-Najjar, 46, after returning to her home in southeastern Gaza.

The violence in Gaza has also raised tensions in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by either Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

That figure exceeds the entire toll in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for all of last year when 235 people died, mostly Palestinians, an AFP tally showed.

An eight-year-old boy and a teenager were the latest deaths in the occupied territory, with Israel saying it "responded with live fire" after suspects hurled explosive devices towards troops.

On Thursday a shooting in Jerusalem killed two people and wounded eight others before the suspects were "neutralised," police said.

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