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Qatar said meditators had secured an agreement to extend the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas by two days to allow the release of more hostages held in Gaza.
“Qatar announces, as part of the ongoing mediation, an agreement has been reached to extend the humanitarian truce for an additional two days in the Gaza Strip,” Majed al-Ansar, spokesperson for the Qatari foreign ministry, said.
He did not specify how many hostages would be released. But negotiators had earlier said that if the pause in hostilities was extended by two days, Hamas would release another 20 women and children held in Gaza. In return, Israel would free another 60 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.
The original four-day pause in the Israel-Hamas war, brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US last week, had been due to end on Monday.
Under that deal, the militant group had agreed to the staggered release of 50 women and children held in Gaza. Israel in turn had said it would allow more aid into the besieged strip and to free 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.
That deal came into effect on Friday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since faced mounting pressure to extend the truce to allow more time for additional hostages to be freed.
Hamas and other militants seized about 240 civilians and soldiers during the Islamist group’s deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Hamas has already released 39 Israeli women and children, some of them dual nationals, in batches of about a dozen each day.
The success of the delicate hostage-for-prisoner swaps — which over the weekend had threatened to break down — has lifted Israel’s national mood and raised hopes that the deal could be extended to allow for more civilians to be returned to their families. It has also built pressure on Netanyahu to do whatever is necessary to continue extricating hostages before resuming hostilities.
The hostage releases have received near wall-to-wall media coverage in Israel, while thousands of Palestinians have gathered each evening outside Ofer Prison, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, letting off firecrackers to celebrate the prisoners’ release and bolstering Hamas’s political standing.
Speaking at a celebration for the release of one Israeli hostage, Noam Alon, whose girlfriend Inbar Haiman was snatched from the Nova music festival, vowed to keep up pressure for the release of more hostages, “at any price”.
“We are expecting to see everyone freed, we want our government to do everything to continue the deal,” he said.
Netanyahu said on Sunday that he would “welcome” the prospect of additional hostages being freed, but also that Israel was ready to resume hostilities against Hamas.
Israeli officials believe Hamas will seek a greater number of, and higher-ranking, prisoners in exchange for each hostage. Hamas, other Palestinian gangs and even civilians are believed to still be holding as many as 200 hostages.
Israeli forces have captured vast swaths of northern Gaza with an aerial bombardment and ground invasion that has killed at least 14,800 people, according to Palestinian officials, and triggered a humanitarian crisis.