Israel, Hamas to release more people amid call to widen truce

Israel, Hamas to release more people amid call to widen truce

GAZA/JERUSALEM — Hamas and Israel were expected to release more hostages and prisoners on Wednesday, the last day of a prolonged six-day truce in the Gaza Strip conflict, as attention focused on whether mediator Qatar could negotiate another extension.

Israeli media, citing the prime minister’s office, reported that Israel had received a list of hostages expected to be released by Hamas on Wednesday. The prime minister’s office had no immediate comment.

Israel has said the truce could be prolonged further, provided Hamas continues to free at least 10 Israeli hostages per day. But with fewer women and children still in captivity, keeping the guns quiet beyond Wednesday may require negotiating to free at least some Israeli men for the first time.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas and allied group Islamic Jihad freed 12 hostages on Tuesday, bringing the total released since the truce began on Friday to 81. Those have been mostly Israeli women and children along with foreign citizens.

The hostages — 10 Israeli women and two Thai citizens — were aged 17 to 84 and included a mother-daughter pair. All were given initial medical checks then moved to Israeli hospitals where they were to meet their families.

A short time later, Israel released 30 Palestinians from Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank and a Jerusalem detention center. The Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, a semi-official organization, said half were women and the remainder were teenage males. That brought the total number of Palestinians released under the truce to 180.

The hostages were among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed. Israel’s bombardment of Hamas-ruled Gaza in retaliation has killed more than 15,000 Gazans, health authorities there said.

Qatar, which mediated indirect talks between Hamas and Israel that resulted in the ceasefire, on Tuesday hosted the spy chiefs from Israel’s Mossad and the United States’ CIA.

The officials discussed possible parameters of a new phase of the truce deal including Hamas releasing hostages who are men or military personnel, not just women and children, a source briefed on the matter said. They also considered what might be needed to reach a ceasefire lasting more than a handful of days.

Qatar spoke to Hamas before the meeting to get a sense of what the group might agree to. The Israelis and Hamas are now internally discussing the ideas explored at the meeting, the source added.

Separately, foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations on Tuesday called in a joint statement for an extension of the ceasefire and more humanitarian aid.

About 159 hostages remain in Gaza. The White House said on Tuesday this includes eight to nine Americans. US national security spokesperson John Kirby said the US was hopeful Hamas would release more Americans, and the US government would work with Qatar to extend the pause in fighting.

“We want to see all the hostages out. The way to do that is these pauses,” Mr. Kirby told reporters traveling on the president’s plane on Tuesday.

The truce has brought Gaza its first respite after seven weeks of fighting and bombardment that has reduced much of the seaside enclave to rubble. It had been due to expire overnight into Tuesday, but both sides agreed to extend the pause to allow for the release of more people.

Israel’s siege has led to the collapse of Gaza’s health care system, especially in the north where no hospitals remain functioning. The World Health Organization said more Gazans could soon be dying of disease than from bombing and many had no access to medicines, vaccines, safe water and hygiene and no food.

More than two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have lost their homes to Israeli bombardments, with thousands of families sleeping rough in makeshift shelters with only the belongings they could carry. They are desperately short of food, fuel and clean water.

“We have a dramatic humanitarian situation. At the same time, we want to have the full release of all hostages, that we believe should be unconditional and immediate. But we need a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza now,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Tuesday.

The temporary ceasefire has allowed about 800 aid trucks to enter Gaza, and the first of three US planes with humanitarian supplies for Gaza landed in Egypt on Tuesday.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths was to travel to the Jordanian capital Amman on Wednesday to discuss opening the Kerem Shalom crossing to allow for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza from Israel.

Located at the intersection of Israel, the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the Kerem Shalom crossing transported more than 60% of the aid going into Gaza before the current conflict.

Aid for Gaza now comes through the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, which was designed for pedestrian crossings and not trucks. — Reuters