As the fifth group of 10 freed Israeli hostages made their way back to Israel from Gaza on Tuesday night, Israeli negotiators were in Qatar for discussions on another possible extension to the truce deal that may see more civilian hostages, mainly women and children, released over the coming days. Talks were also reportedly being held on a potential broader framework to see male hostages freed.
The temporary truce, which began Friday, is currently in its fifth day and is slated to extend for a sixth day with 10 more hostages set for release on Wednesday.
Mossad spy agency chief David Barnea was in Doha on Tuesday 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’ 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 force members being released, US official told AP.
Meanwhile, Barnea is said to have relayed to them 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 said, according to Axios.
The initial four-day ceasefire, the first in over seven weeks in Israel’s war against Hamas, 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 murdered, most of them civilians, and more than 240 were taken hostage.
In the first four days, Hamas released a total of 30 Israeli children and 20 Israeli women, 10 of them mothers of freed kids, as well as an Israeli-Russian man set free as a gesture to Moscow, and 18 foreigners — 17 Thais and a Filipino — released as part of a separate, Iran-brokered deal.
On Tuesday, 10 more Israeli hostages were released and another two Thai nationals were set free in a separate agreement.
The original deal stipulated that the ceasefire 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.
Israel had freed 180 female and underage Palestinians serving time in Israeli prison for security offenses by Tuesday night, and is expected to release 30 more, all women and minors, on Wednesday, if Hamas releases 10 more Israelis.
Given the provisions set out in the deal, the truce could potentially extend to Sunday, assuming more Israeli hostages are set free.
Israel would like to see all the remaining women and children held hostage in Gaza released over the coming days, and believes Hamas is still holding 30 to 40 women and children, including 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.
According to Channel 13 news, Israel is interested in extending the current truce arrangement to get another 30 hostages out at least.
“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, the Ynet news site reported Tuesday 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.
The source stressed Israel remains committed to toppling Hamas, a key aim of the Israeli 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 news reported 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 saying. “Bringing back the hostages and destroying Hamas military and governing capabilities are two complementary goals — one does not replace the other.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
“We are preparing to continue fighting to dismantle Hamas. It will take time, these are complex goals, but they are more than justified,” IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Tuesday.
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, also speaking Tuesday, said: “After the ceasefire, the fire will resume. The entire war cabinet is unified on this position. There is no other option.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu said he told President Joe Biden that he was open to extending the current truce, but once it was over, the IDF ground operation would resume. In a video statement, Netanyahu said he told the president: “At the end of the deal, we are returning full power to carry out our aims: destroy Hamas, ensure that Gaza won’t return to what it was and of course to free all of our hostages.”