A Hamas source said that 10 more Israeli hostages will be released from the Gaza Strip on Thursday evening, two of them also holding Russian citizenship, as part of one-day truce extension.
Previous statements by the sides had said eight hostages and three bodies will be returned today. It appeared that the two Russian citizens could be slated for release as part of a side agreement between Hamas and Moscow, as has occurred in previous days.
“All of them are alive,” the Hamas source told AFP. “Israel last night refused a list Hamas proposed that included three Israeli bodies.”
However, a senior Hamas official has said the Palestinian terror group will return the bodies of three dead hostages in addition.
The Hamas announcement came hours after Israel confirmed that a temporary truce in Gaza would extend for at least one more day — with initial reports that eight Israeli hostages were set to be released in the agreement — after negotiations went on until just before the 7 a.m. deadline to restart fighting.
Shortly before 7 a.m., the IDF said that “in light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the agreement, the ceasefire will continue.”
Following various reports in Hebrew media about Hamas providing a list of additional hostages that was deemed unacceptable by Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office said that it had received a list “in accordance with the terms of the outline, and therefore, the pause will continue.”
About an hour later, the PMO said the family members of the hostages on the list had been updated that their loved ones are slated to be released Thursday evening.
Unconfirmed reports in Hebrew media suggested that there were eight people on the list, and that Hamas had included either two Russian-Israelis who had already been released on Wednesday in a side deal with Moscow, or the bodies of Israeli hostages, among the 10 slated for release, in a fudging of the terms of the deal.
Later Thursday, Hamas said it would be handing over the bodies of three Israelis, claiming without evidence that they were killed by Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
The reports that the three bodies would be transferred along with eight living Israeli hostages seemed to imply that Israel agreed to go ahead with the extension even without Hamas meeting the demand of 10 living Israeli hostages for every extra day without fighting.
Adding to the confusion, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the one-day extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas, saying that it will be under the same terms as the previous six days. Previous days had seen a minimum of 10 Israelis freed per day.
The agreement came just hours after Israel’s war cabinet convened Wednesday night for a special session to weigh the possibility of extending the truce.
Underscoring the urgency, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel early Thursday for talks on aid for Gaza and the truce.
Hamas released 16 hostages Wednesday — 12 Israelis and four Thais.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz met late into the night and into Thursday to discuss the possible extension. A senior Israeli official also confirmed earlier to reporters that Israeli, American, Egyptian and Qatari representatives were in Qatar to discuss extending the truce Wednesday night.
Channel 12 reported that Israel was not satisfied with the draft list presented during talks with mediators Wednesday and early Thursday. Israel has insisted Hamas release all children and civilian women held hostage by the terror group. Hamas-led terrorists took about 240 hostages of all ages during the October 7 shock assault when some 1,200 people were massacred in southern Israel.
The temporary ceasefire agreement has so far seen 97 civilians released from Hamas captivity in Gaza as of Wednesday: 73 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals, and 1 Filipino.
Israel estimates that about 145 hostages — including 15 women and children — are now being held in Gaza and insists the terror group release all remaining civilian women and children hostages before additional agreements are considered.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Thursday morning that the war cabinet had agreed unanimously the night before that if an acceptable list were not received from Hamas by 7 a.m., it would immediately restart fighting.
A Hamas source said Wednesday that the terror group was also not satisfied with Israel’s proposals for another extension.
“What is being proposed in the discussions to extend the truce is not the best,” the source told AFP, adding that the talks were focused on an extension of “two days or more” of the pause, which has seen daily exchanges of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and aid deliveries into the Gaza Strip.
At least four children — Kfir and Ariel Bibas, 10 months and four years old, respectively, as well as Aisha and Bilal Ziyadne — and an estimated 20 civilian women are believed to remain hostage in Gaza following the release of six groups of mainly women and children since the truce brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States took effect Friday at 7 a.m.
Hamas on Wednesday claimed the Bibas children and their mother Shiri were killed in an Israeli strike during the war in the Strip. It did not say when this had allegedly occurred (a pause in fighting has been in place since November 24). Gaza terror groups have made such claims regarding hostages in the past, seen as part of a psychological warfare campaign.
Speaking to Channel 12, a senior Israeli source, who spoke anonymously, said Israel’s conditions are clear: “Negotiations are conducted either under fire, or while the release of the abductees continues at the same time.”
The source said that message will also be conveyed to Blinken on his trip to Israel Thursday.
The current pause in fighting had been pre-approved by the Israeli cabinet for up to 10 days, and has so far been in effect for six. Israel has released some 210 Palestinian prisoners as of Wednesday night to secure the release of the hostages taken from Israel.
Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel will imminently resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly October 7 attack, which triggered the war.
“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”
His vow to continue the fight was echoed by the other two members of the war cabinet, Gallant and Gantz, as well as by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, who all issued statements of readiness to advance immediately with the military campaign.
Jacob Magid and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.