Mediators work to extend Israel-Hamas truce as final planned hostage swap nears

Families of the hostages, and their supporters, call for the release of all the hostages during a demonstration outside The Kirya ahead of the war cabinet meeting on the fifth day of the temporary truce on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Families of the hostages, and their supporters, call for the release of all the hostages during a demonstration outside The Kirya ahead of the war cabinet meeting on the fifth day of the temporary truce on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld | Getty Images

A temporary truce between Israel and Hamas is set to expire on Wednesday, but mediators in Qatar are trying to extend it for at least another 48 hours to allow for the exchange of more captives and for additional aid to reach embattled Gaza.

On the second day of a two-day cease-fire extension, at least another 10 Israelis are expected to be freed by Hamas in exchange for at least 30 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday morning it believes that 161 of the original 240 hostages seized by Hamas in last month’s attack on Israeli communities are still being held by the Islamist militant group. Israel says about 1,200 people were killed when Hamas fighters swept out of the Gaza Strip and struck nearby Israeli communities.

In total, 88 hostages had been released by Wednesday evening, leaving 159 people in captivity, according to Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari. Earlier in the day, the prime minister’s office said the remaining hostages included four children and 10 people over the age of 75.

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On the question of a longer-term cease-fire, Israel says it intends to continue its military campaign in Gaza.

“In recent days I have heard a question: After completing this stage of the return of our hostages, will Israel go back to the fighting? My answer is an unequivocal yes,” Netanyahu said Wednesday.

Details trickle out about the conditions of Israelis’ captivity

The families of Israeli hostages released by Hamas continue to share stories of their relatives’ captivity, with some relatives speaking to media outlets. Gideon Heiman says his 84-year-old mother did not receive necessary medical treatment while being held Gaza.

Israeli doctors also say rescued hostages have returned malnourished. One of the former captives is in stable condition at a hospital, but her family says her neurological condition is still unclear. Devora Cohen says her 12-year-old nephew Eitan told her that his captors used guns to threaten crying Israeli children to be quiet.

There were conflicting reports on Wednesday about the fate of one family abducted on Oct. 7 at Nir Oz, a kibbutz near the Gaza border — Yarden and Shiri Bibas, their 4-year-old son Ariel and 10-month-old son Kfir. Videos from Oct. 7 showed the family alive when they were taken into Gaza.

Newly freed Palestinian prisoner Lamees Abu Arqub kisses her father after Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails in exchange for Hamas hostages held in Gaza, in the village of Dura in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.
Newly freed Palestinian prisoner Lamees Abu Arqub kisses her father after Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails in exchange for Hamas hostages held in Gaza, in the village of Dura in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.
Hazem Bader | AFP via Getty Images

The Hamas military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, said Wednesday that the mother and two children were killed in an Israeli airstrike. Hamas did not mention the father.

In a statement Wednesday, Israel said it was “assessing the accuracy” of the claim that the Bibas family members had been killed. Israeli officials had previously said the mother and children were believed to be in the hands of another Palestinian militant group in southern Gaza.

At least two other hostages were falsely reported or believed to be dead before being released alive in hostages-for-prisoners swaps.

On Tuesday, Hamas freed 10 Israelis and two Thai laborers in exchange for 30 Palestinians prisoners and detainees.

On Wednesday evening, Israel’s military said that two additional Israeli hostages had been released without an accompanying prisoner exchange. The release followed a statement from Hamas that the group would release two women with Russian citizenship at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This week, CIA Director William Burns traveled to Doha for meetings with Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, and David Barnea, the chief Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, according to a U.S. official who spoke to NPR anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.

Israeli officials say Israel is open to discussions about extending the pause in hostilities for continued release of hostages.

Meanwhile, Hamas told mediators that they approve of extending the truce for four days, Israeli media reported. Israeli media also has said that a longer cease-fire could be in the works to secure the release of all the hostages and a large number of Palestinian prisoners.

Aid reaching Gaza during pause still insufficient, U.N. says

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, known as OCHA, said that “airstrikes, shelling and ground clashes have largely ceased,” since the temporary truce went into effect on Friday, but said that “exchange of fire reportedly took place between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Beit Hanoun area, in the north, and Israeli forces reportedly used tank fire at open areas in the south.”

The pause has allowed Egypt and the Palestinian Red Crescent Societies and U.N. agencies “to enhance the delivery of assistance into and across Gaza.” The U.N. said a Red Crescent aid convoy carrying food, medical supplies, water and non-food items reached areas north of an informal dividing line that bisects Gaza. Israel’s military, which has focused its military campaign on the north, has warned Gazans to move south of the line.

Even with the aid convoy reaching the embattled north, OCHA emphasized that “the bulk of aid distribution during the day” took place in the south. It also cautioned that the aid reaching Gaza since the pause “is insufficient to meet the extensive needs.”

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for “a full humanitarian ceasefire, for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and the wider region.”

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