ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Hamas said to seek 4-day truce extension, as 6th group of hostages set to be freed

Israel has said it’s willing to prolong halt in fighting by 24 hours for every 10 hostages released; US, Qatar pushing larger deal that could see civilian men and soldiers returned

Israelis hold photographs of the Bibas family at a press conference calling for the release of 10 month old Kfir, 4 year old Ariel, and their parents Shiri and Yarden. at "Hostages Square" in Tel Aviv, November 28, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis hold photographs of the Bibas family at a press conference calling for the release of 10 month old Kfir, 4 year old Ariel, and their parents Shiri and Yarden. at "Hostages Square" in Tel Aviv, November 28, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hamas is willing to extend its truce deal with Israel for four days and release more Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners, a source close to the terror group reportedly said Wednesday, as mediators sought a lasting halt to the conflict.

The ongoing truce is scheduled to expire early Thursday after a six-day pause in the conflict, sparked by the deadly Hamas assault that prompted an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

With 61 Israeli hostages and 20 foreign nationals already released and more set to walk free on Wednesday during the truce, Qatari mediators said they were working for a “sustainable” ceasefire.

Hamas on Wednesday “informed the mediators that it is willing to extend the truce for four days,” a source close to the terror group told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Under that arrangement, Hamas “would be able to release Israeli prisoners that it, other resistance movements and other parties hold during this period, according to the terms of the existing truce,” the source added.

Israel has agreed to extend the truce, which was originally set to expire on Monday, by 24 hours for every 10 hostages freed, and Hamas is expected to release a sixth group of hostages later Wednesday.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists accompany an Israeli hostage, Ditza Heiman, before handing her over to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Early Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had received a list with the names of 10 abducted Israelis that Hamas is slated to release later in the day. It said the families of those on the list have been informed, without giving further details.

Meanwhile, Moussa Abu Marzouk, an official from the Hamas political wing, said the terror group will also release two additional hostages with Russian citizenship in a gesture of “appreciation” for the position taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hamas was believed to be holding eight dual Israeli-Russian citizens. One, Roni Krivoi, was released Sunday.

Relatives of Israeli-Russian hostages being held captive by Hamas in Gaza went to Moscow this week to seek the Kremlin’s assistance in getting their family members released by the terror organization.

Twelve hostages, including 10 Israelis, were released Tuesday, bringing the total number of people freed during the truce to 81.

In this photo provided by Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, Thai hostages, who were previously released, hug their newly-freed compatriots at the Shamir Medical Center in Israel, Nov. 28, 2023 (Thailand’s Foreign Ministry via AP)

The initial four-day truce started Friday and had been due to expire Monday, when it was extended by two days. The deal, reached last week, provided for the release of 50 Israeli women and children abducted by Hamas during its October 7 attacks, in which 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians, and more than 240 were taken hostage.

Israel has vowed to resume its military campaign to end Hamas’s 16-year rule of Gaza, but is facing mounting international pressure to extend the truce and to spare south Gaza a devastating ground offensive like the one that has demolished much of the north.

Hamas’s expression of willingness to extend the truce comes a day after Mossad spy agency chief David Barnea was in Doha for talks with CIA Director William Burns, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani and other Qatari officials, for expanded discussions on the hostages held by Hamas and other terror factions in Gaza since the October 7 onslaught.

A Qatari source told AFP that the discussions aim “to build on the progress of the extended humanitarian pause agreement and to initiate further discussions about the next phase of a potential deal.”

Burns’s focus was expected to include freeing Americans among the hostages and keeping the releases going overall, which could lead to more male hostages and the first known Israeli security forces members being released, a US official told AP.

Israelis hold photographs of the Bibas family, and orange balloons to represent the redheaded children, at a press conference calling for the release of 10-month-old Kfir, 4-year-old Ariel, and their parents Shiri and Yarden Bibas, at ‘Hostage Square’ in Tel Aviv, November 28, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Ynet news site said further that talks could focus on five groups of hostages: female soldiers, men no longer of the age to do reserve duty, IDF reservists, male soldiers, and the bodies of those killed during the October assault and later in captivity.

Meanwhile, Barnea relayed that Israel will not agree to talks on a new hostage deal before the current agreement is fully implemented, and all women and children hostages are released, an Israeli official told Axios on Tuesday.

“It might be possible to reach separate agreements around other groups of hostages but Israel made clear it can only happen after the current deal is fully implemented and all women and children are released,” the official reportedly said.

The original deal stipulated that the truce could be extended by more days — up to a total of 10 days, including the first four — if Hamas releases at least 10 additional hostages each day, with Israel freeing more Palestinian inmates at a ratio of three prisoners for every hostage.

Given the provisions set out in the deal, the truce could potentially extend to Sunday, assuming more Israeli hostages are set free.

Palestinians walk past destroyed buildings in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis on November 28, 2023. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel would like to see all the remaining women and children held hostage in Gaza released over the coming days. It believes Hamas is still holding 30 to 40 women and children: about 20 women aged 21 to 50, and at least nine children, the youngest of whom is 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, who was taken with his parents and four-year-old brother from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. The Israel Defense Forces said Monday that Hamas transferred the family to another Palestinian terror group in Gaza.

“We expect to have another two to three days of hostage release and a humanitarian pause, after which either we resume operations in Gaza or potentially reach a follow-on agreement,” an Israeli official told the Washington Post.

The official also predicted most of the abducted children would be freed by Wednesday night, saying Israel was open to weighing Hamas offers for releasing Israeli male hostages and soldiers once all kids and women are returned.

The official stressed, however, that further releases would not “lead to a permanent ceasefire.”

Quoting a senior diplomatic source, Ynet reported that negotiations on extending the temporary truce in Gaza have not included consideration of proposals for extending the pause beyond 10 days, but indicated Israel could be open to the idea.

“If there is a concrete proposal, the cabinet will consider it, but there hasn’t been anything like that. If we see it’s a serious proposal, we’ll look into it,” the source said.

This photo distributed by the Israel Defense Forces on November 28, 2023, shows Israeli troops maintaining positions in the Gaza Strip, amid a temporary ceasefire (Israel Defense Forces)

The source stressed that Israel remains committed to toppling Hamas, a key aim of its military operation in Gaza.

“If we can get as many hostages out as possible in 10 days, that’s great,” the source said. “Nobody is forgetting the war’s goal and nobody will agree to something ridiculous like disarmament. We already know how much international forces can be relied on.”

Channel 12 reported that Israel is expected to be presented with a proposal for all hostages to be freed in exchange for all Palestinian security prisoners, including those convicted of murder and those captured on October 7, and an end to the war, an offer that Jerusalem will reject.

“Our eye remains on the ball,” the network quoted an Israeli source as saying. “Bringing back the hostages and destroying Hamas military and governing capabilities are two complementary goals — one does not replace the other.”

Netanyahu, his war cabinet colleagues and Israel’s security chiefs have all stressed that the twin declared goals of the war — to destroy Hamas and get back all the hostages — will be both be pursued until they are achieved.

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