A truce between Israel and Hamas will be extended by two days, mediator Qatar said hours before the truce expired on Tuesday, as more prisoners were released from Gaza in exchange for the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners.
“The Palestinian and Israeli sides have reached an agreement to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza for two additional days under the same conditions,” Qatar’s foreign ministry said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.
The Palestinian resistance group Hamas also confirmed the extension, and Israeli media reported that the government had received a new list of 10 more prisoners to be released. However, there has been no official announcement from Israel.
News of the extension came as 11 more captives were freed from Gaza overnight, along with the release of another 33 Palestinian prisoners — the latest exchange under the existing deal.
The extension of the truce, which was scheduled to end at 7:00 a.m. (05:00 GMT), was hailed internationally.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “a glimmer of hope and humanity in the midst of the darkness of war.”
Palestinians walk among the debris of buildings hit by Israeli strikes, near the Al-Zawiya market in Gaza City. PHOTO: AFP
Israel’s violent ground and air retaliatory operation following the October 7 Hamas incursion killed nearly 15,000 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, the vast majority of them children.
Late Monday, 11 prisoners arrived in Israel, the country’s military said.
“Our forces will accompany them until they are reunited with their families,” it said in a statement, adding that the military “welcomes and embraces the freed hostages upon their return to their homeland.”
Most of the group are dual nationals, with Argentines, Germans and French among those released, and all 11 were from the Nir Oz kibbutz, the community said.
The releases brought “a sigh of relief to our community, yet we remain deeply concerned about our loved ones still being held hostage,” said kibbutz official Osnat Peri.
Shortly after the prisoners’ arrival was confirmed, Israeli prison authorities reported that 33 Palestinian prisoners had been released.
In east Jerusalem, prisoner Muhammad Abu Al-Humus called his release “indescribable joy” and kissed his mother’s hand as he entered his home, while crowds in the West Bank town of Beitunia waved green Hamas flags to greet those who arrived by coach.
But nearby there were also clashes with Israeli troops at Ofer prison, with Palestinians burning tires and throwing stones. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that one person was killed.
In total, 50 Israeli prisoners were released under the ceasefire agreement, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, while another 19 hostages were released under separate deals, including Thai workers and a Russian-Israeli dual national.
Hamas said it was now drawing up lists of additional hostages to be released, although the process was reportedly complicated by the fact that some were being held by other militant groups.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that “in order to extend the pause, Hamas has committed to release another 20 women and children.”
Israel sees the truce as temporary to secure the release of prisoners and plans to continue the war, with the government agreeing to a 30.3 billion shekel ($8.2 billion) war budget that will now go to parliament.
But he faces growing pressure for a more lasting ceasefire and an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced, according to the United Nations.
This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will make his third wartime visit to the Middle East, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.
“The secretary will emphasize the need to maintain the increased flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza, ensure the release of all hostages and improve the protection of civilians in Gaza,” a senior US official said.
He will discuss “the principles he laid out for the future of Gaza and the need to create an independent Palestinian state,” the official added.
Inside Gaza, Hamas’ health ministry said no fuel for generators had arrived at hospitals in the northern part of the territory, despite the ceasefire.
Displaced Palestinians gather next to shelter tents in Khan Yunis near the border fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: AFP
And UN official Tor Wennesland warned that the humanitarian situation “remains catastrophic”.
“It requires the urgent entry of additional aid and supplies in a smooth, predictable and continuous manner to alleviate the unbearable suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza,” said the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
The truce allowed residents who fled fighting in northern Gaza to return to Gaza City, which has been devastated by relentless Israeli bombardment.
People walked or cycled through the debris-strewn streets, where cars were flattened and buildings collapsed.
Gaza City Mayor Yahya al-Siraj said that without fuel, the region would not be able to pump clean water or clear the waste piling up on the streets, warning of a potential public health “catastrophe”.
The fighting has left many with devastating injuries, which doctors in Gaza have struggled to treat due to limited supplies.
The cleanup was underway at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, which Israel targeted as being used as a command center by Hamas.
“We hope it will be able to resume its activities soon,” said Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Hamad.
A limited number of Palestinians were airlifted to the United Arab Emirates for treatment after crossing from Gaza into Egypt, including seven-year-old Yousef, who bit his nails next to his mother Nuza Fawzi.
“It wasn’t like that before,” she said of Youssef, who suffers from hemophilia.
“He doesn’t talk much since the war. He’s afraid of everything,” he added. “He’s asking me if he’s going to die.”
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