People react after the release of Palestinian prisoners amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel [Source: Reuters]
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.
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.
After they were handed over by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Israeli military said Tuesday’s freed hostages, comprising 10 Israeli women and two Thai citizens, received initial medical checks. They then moved to Israeli hospitals where they were to meet their families. The hostages were aged 17 to 84 and included a mother-daughter pair.
A short time later, Israel released 30 Palestinians from Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank and a Jerusalem detention centre. The Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, a semi-official organisation, said half were women and the remainder were teenage males. That brought the total number of Palestinians released under the truce to 180.
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 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 meeting sought to “build on the progress of the extended humanitarian pause agreement and to initiate further discussions about the next phase of a potential deal”, a source briefed on the visits told Reuters.
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. U.S. national security spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. was hopeful that Hamas would release more Americans, and the U.S. government would work with Qatar to extend the pause in fighting.