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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel and Hamas agree to extend truce, Qatar says

Under the initial deal, Hamas agreed to release 50 women and children taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack, and Israel agreed to free 150 women and minors held in Israeli jails, among other terms.

By Talya Minsberg, Yara Bayoumy and Vivian Yee

Israel and Hamas agreed Monday to extend their fragile truce for two more days, an act of continued cooperation that could allow for additional aid to flow into the Gaza Strip and the release of more hostages, prisoners and detainees than initially expected.

The extension comes as a four-day truce, which had been set to expire Tuesday, has proved largely successful at the stated goal of bringing people home. Israeli officials signaled that a fourth exchange of hostages and prisoners, the final round of the initial agreement, would go forward Monday.

And the renewed agreement would prolong a pause in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip that has killed at least 13,000 people and created a humanitarian disaster for its 2.2 million residents.

Majed Al-Ansari, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry of Qatar, which has helped mediate the talks that led to the initial pause in fighting, confirmed the agreement but did not elaborate on the terms.

The announcement came shortly after the Israeli prime minister’s office said it had begun contacting the families of hostages to be released Monday, signaling the resolution of a disagreement over those to be freed.

Hamas, the armed group that controls the Gaza Strip and set off the fighting with a cross-border assault on southern Israel last month, said the two-day extension would carry the same terms as the initial pause. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government, which had offered to extend the pause by one day for every additional 10 hostages released.

Under the initial deal, Hamas agreed to release 50 women and children taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack, and Israel agreed to free 150 women and minors held in Israeli jails, among other terms.

Israel and Hamas had each signaled a willingness over the weekend to prolong their truce if it allowed for more hostages and Palestinian detainees to be freed. The shaky truce appeared to hit a snag Monday as both sides took issue with the names presented by the other for the fourth day of exchanges under the deal, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

But by Monday evening, the Israeli prime minister’s office said it had begun notifying the families of hostages who would be released.

In Washington, the Biden administration welcomed the announcement of the additional two-day pause, said John F. Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, noting that the four-day cease-fire had already resulted in a surge in humanitarian assistance.

“We’re grateful that we’ve got an extra two days to work with here,” Kirby said. He added that the United States would like to “see that extended further until all the hostages are released.”

Diaa Rashwan, head of the State Information Service in Egypt, which is also mediating in the talks between Israel and Hamas, had said earlier Monday that a two-day extension would include the release each day of 10 women and children being held hostage in Gaza in exchange for 30 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

Other terms of the current cease-fire, including the entry of more medical, food and fuel supplies into Gaza and restrictions on Israeli flights over the territory, would continue during the extension, Rashwan said.

Monday’s exchange was expected to include 11 Israeli hostages in Gaza for 33 Palestinians held in Israel, Rashwan said. The statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office did not specify the number of hostages it expected to be released Monday.

So far, Hamas has released 39 Israeli hostages under the deal, and Israel has freed 117 Palestinian prisoners. Another 19 hostages in Gaza — 17 Thais, one Filipino and one Russian-Israeli dual citizen — have been released since Friday through separate negotiations.

Qatar previously indicated that one potential challenge in extending the agreement could be whether Hamas can locate more of the hostages, some of whom are being held in different parts of Gaza by other armed groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The cease-fire deal initially included the release of 50 women and children because that was the number Hamas had been able to locate, the prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, told the Financial Times in an interview published Sunday.

More than 40 women and children are being held hostage by groups other than Hamas, al-Thani said, adding that Israel was willing to extend the cease-fire if “there’s proof” that Hamas has more women and children to release.

Israeli officials had expressed concerns to Qatar that some children were being released without their mothers who had also been taken captive, according to an official briefed on the talks. The official said Hamas had responded that in those cases, the mothers were being held by different groups, and it would take time to get them.

The pause has marked the longest break in fighting in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, when gunmen from Hamas and other militant groups launched a deadly attack on southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 others hostage, according to Israeli officials. Israel responded with airstrikes, a siege and a ground invasion that has encircled Gaza City.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had expressed openness to an extension of the truce but made clear that he intended for Israel to resume fighting after it ends in order to “eliminate” Hamas.

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