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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 05 March 2024

Israel, Hamas seek new deal to extend Gaza truce on final day

Twenty-one foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals and in return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers

Reuters Published 29.11.23, 06:17 PM
A man searches for belongings as seen from a pigeon loft standing atop the remains of breeder Ahmed Al-Najar's house, which was destroyed in an Israeli strike during the conflict, amid a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

A man searches for belongings as seen from a pigeon loft standing atop the remains of breeder Ahmed Al-Najar's house, which was destroyed in an Israeli strike during the conflict, amid a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters.

Israel and Hamas were negotiating through mediators on Wednesday over another potential extension of the Gaza truce, with hours left to reach a deal before fighting was due to restart after a six-day pause.

Families of Israeli hostages were informed on Wednesday of the names of those due to be released later in the day, Israel's public broadcaster Kan reported, the final group to be freed under the truce unless negotiators succeed in extending it.

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Gaza's Hamas rulers published a list of 15 women and 15 teenagers to be released from Israeli jails in return. For the first time since the truce began it included Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as residents of occupied territory.

A Palestinian official told Reuters that despite a willingness on both sides to prolong the truce, no agreement had yet been reached. Discussions were still under way with mediators Egypt and Qatar, the official said.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal, though he declined to provide further details.

"We are doing everything we can in order to get those hostages out. Nothing is confirmed until it is confirmed," Levy told reporters in Tel Aviv. "We're talking about very sensitive negotiations in which human lives hang in the balance."

Once the release of hostages ends, the fighting will resume, he said: "This war will end with the end of Hamas."

So far Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from among the 240 hostages they seized in a deadly rampage on Oct. 7 under the deal that secured the war's first truce. Twenty-one foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals. In return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers.

The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel says it would be willing to prolong it further for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day. But with fewer women and children still in captivity, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time.

Tuesday's release also included for the first time hostages held by Islamic Jihad, a separate militant group, as well as by Hamas itself. The ability of Hamas to secure the release of hostages held by other factions had been an issue in earlier talks.

FIRST RESPITE

The truce has brought the first respite to a war launched by Israel to annihilate Hamas after the "Black Shabbat" raid by gunmen who killed 1,200 people on the Jewish rest day, according to Israel's tally.

Israeli bombardment has since reduced much of Gaza to a wasteland, with more than 15,000 people confirmed killed, 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations.

Many more are feared buried under the ruins. The Palestinian health ministry said another 160 bodies had been pulled out of rubble during the past 24 hours of the truce, and around 6,500 people were still missing.

On Tuesday, mediator Qatar hosted the spy chiefs from Israel's Mossad and the U.S. CIA.

The officials discussed possible parameters of a new phase of the truce deal including Hamas releasing hostages who are Israeli men or soldiers, 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, and the opposing sides are now internally discussing the ideas explored at the meeting, the source said.

There was no immediate word on whether the final group to be freed on Wednesday would include the youngest hostage, 10-month-old baby Kfir Bibas, held along with his four-year-old brother and their parents. Relatives had come forward with a special plea after they were omitted from the penultimate group freed on Tuesday.

The truce has held throughout the six days despite reports from both sides of comparatively small-scale violations, though both say they are prepared for war to resume with full intensity the moment it lapses.

A spokesperson for Israel's military said the truce was still holding on Wednesday. Palestinians accused Israeli forces of firing at homes near the beach in Khan Younis from the sea, and of shooting in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

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