Israel-Hamas truce extended by two days as latest exchange of captives takes place

Hamas released another 11 hostages on Monday night

Palestinian detainee Khalil Zama hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli jail on Sunday. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

A pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas was extended by two days on Monday, hours before the truce was due to expire, paving the way for the exchange of more Israeli hostages in return for Palestinian detainees.

The four-day truce, which began on Friday, has seen Hamas release dozens of Israeli and international hostages in exchange for more than 100 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Another exchange took place on Monday night, when Hamas released a group of 11 hostages ahead of the expected release of dozens of Palestinians.

Majed Al Ansari, Qatar's Foreign Ministry spokesman, announced the agreement to extend the truce. Qatar, along with Egypt, has been a key mediator in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli hostages released from Gaza on Monday include three French citizens, two Germans and six Argentinians, Qatar said.

The White House welcomed the extension and said US President Joe Biden had been “deeply involved” in negotiations.

An extension of two days would seemingly mean the release of 20 more hostages, 10 each day.

News of the prolonged truce came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to resume Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip with “all our might” once it expired.

Mr Biden said the pause allows for the delivery of “critically needed” aid to Gaza and the recovery of hostages.

Some Israelis are concerned that an extension would cause the military to lose momentum in its efforts to destroy Hamas.

The truce marked the first break in fighting since Israel began bombarding the Gaza Strip after the October 7 Hamas attacks that killed 1,200 people and saw the militants seize about 240 hostages. Israel's bombing campaign and ground offensive in the enclave have killed almost 15,000, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Israel had previously said it would agree to extend the pause by a day for every 10 hostages released by Hamas. In return, it would free 30 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Among the Israelis released at the weekend was four-year-old Abigail Edan, an Israeli American who saw her parents being killed by Hamas fighters during their October 7 attack on southern Israel.

“What she endured is unthinkable,” Mr Biden said on Sunday.

Joshua Hantman, former adviser to the Israel's Minister of Defence and current adviser to some of the hostages' families, told The National that recent days had given relatives of those still held in Gaza “a real sense of hope”.

“Some never believed they would ever see their loved ones again,” he said.

“The fact that we have seen children coming back to the bosom of their families is incredible and it has really given the entire nation a sense of hope.”

While Israelis have celebrated the return of some of the hostages, negotiations have led to mixed feelings among the country's citizens.

“Before we saw the hostages come back, I didn’t know what to think about the deal, but after I saw them, I started to breathe again because I saw the children. I’m a mother and we have [hostage] babies in Gaza, so I’m very, very happy,” Daniela Sade told The National in Jerusalem.

But she and her husband Sarel, a reservist commando recalled to active duty, said they questioned efforts to extend the temporary truce because it could allow Hamas to regroup.

“The easy option is to say yes, because we all want [the hostages] back,” Mr Sade said, an assault rifle slung across his shoulder even though he was not on duty.

“But we should also think for many days to come about how many soldiers may die when Hamas is able to get to their positions and their tunnels. We had good momentum and we may lose it. The purpose of the war, winning, will be gone.”

Thirty-nine teenage Palestinian detainees were released by Israel on Sunday, taking the total freed since the truce began to 117.

Under the original terms of the deal between Israel and Hamas, 50 women and child hostages held by the militant group were to be exchanged for 150 Palestinians held by Israel.

Of the hostages captured by Hamas on October 7, 50 have been released under the deal and 13 more freed under separate agreements. One was freed by Israeli forces and two were found dead inside Gaza.

The Israeli military has flattened much of Gaza through an intense bombing campaign and mounted a ground offensive in the north.

About 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, with thousands more thought to be trapped in the rubble of destroyed buildings, and more than a million displaced.

Palestinians gave freed detainees a jubilant reception in Ramallah, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Israa Al Jaabis told The National she had been treated “poorly” while in prison.

Hostages leave Gaza and Palestinian detainees leave jail – in pictures

Updated: November 27, 2023, 8:29 PM