- Recent Developments:
- Hamas released a list of 30 prisoners, including the first Palestinian Israeli citizens.
- An Israeli spokesman says Israel will consider any reasonable proposal
- Palestinians say 160 more bodies have been recovered from Gaza rubble
Gaza/Jerusalem, Nov. 29 (Reuters) – Israel and Hamas held talks through mediators on Wednesday over another possible extension of the Gaza ceasefire, reaching an agreement hours before fighting resumed after a six-day pause.
The families of the Israeli hostages were told the names of those to be released on Wednesday, Israel’s public broadcaster Khan announced, adding that a final group would be released under the standoff unless negotiators succeed in extending it.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers have released a list of 15 women and 15 teenagers to be released from Israeli prisons. For the first time since the cease-fire began, Israel includes Palestinian citizens and residents of the occupied territories.
A Palestinian official told Reuters that although both sides were willing to extend the ceasefire, no agreement had yet been reached. The official said talks are still ongoing with mediators Egypt and Qatar.
Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal, though he declined to provide further details.
“We are doing everything we can to get those hostages out. Nothing is confirmed until that is confirmed,” Levy told reporters in Tel Aviv. “We are talking about very important negotiations where human lives hang in the balance.”
As soon as the hostage release is over, fighting will resume, he said: “This war will end with the end of Hamas.”
So far Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from the 240 hostages they took in a deadly rampage under an agreement that secured the war’s first ceasefire on October 7. Twenty-one foreigners, mainly Thai farm workers, were released under separate collateral agreements. In response, Israel released 180 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and youths.
The initial four-day ceasefire was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel says it is willing to extend it further until Hamas releases 10 hostages a day. But with some women and children still in captivity, it could mean agreeing to terms that would free at least some Israeli men for the first time.
Tuesday’s release included for the first time hostages held by the separate militant group Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Hamas’s ability to secure the release of hostages held by other factions has been an issue in previous negotiations.
The ceasefire marks the first reprieve in a war launched by Israel to wipe out Hamas after gunmen’s “Black Shabbat” attacks on the Jewish Sabbath killed 1,200 people, according to Israel’s account.
Israeli bombardment has turned much of Gaza into a wasteland, killing more than 15,000 people, 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health officials considered reliable by the United Nations.
Many more are feared buried under the rubble. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said 160 more bodies were recovered from the rubble in the last 24 hours of the ceasefire, and about 6,500 people are still missing.
On Tuesday, mediator Qatar hosted intelligence chiefs from Israel’s Mossad and the US CIA.
Officials discussed possible parameters of a new phase of the ceasefire agreement, including the release of Israeli men or soldiers held hostage by Hamas. They considered what it would take to achieve a ceasefire lasting more than a few days.
Qatar spoke with Hamas before the meeting to understand what the group might agree on, the source said, adding that the opposite side is now internally discussing the ideas explored at the meeting.
There was no immediate word on whether the final group to be released Wednesday would include the youngest hostage, Kafir Bibas, a 10-month-old baby who was arrested with his four-year-old brother and their parents. Relatives had made a special plea after being excluded from the funeral procession that was released on Tuesday.
Despite reports of relatively minor violations from both sides, the ceasefire lasted for six days, although both sides say they are ready to resume fighting in full intensity once it ends.
A spokesman for the Israeli army said the ceasefire was still in place on Wednesday. Palestinians accused Israeli forces of firing from the sea at homes near Khan Yunis beach and in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Mohammed Salem and Rolene Tafaqji in Gaza, Henriette Saker and Don Williams in Jerusalem, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Steve Holland on Air Force One and Reuters; By Cynthia Osterman and Peter Graf; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Lincoln Feist and Nick MacPhee
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A veteran reporter with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.