A truce between Israel and Hamas enters its sixth day Wednesday after additional hostages were released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, with mediators pushing for a “sustainable” ceasefire.
After a 48-hour extension of an initial four-day truce, a new group of 12 hostages was freed from Gaza on Tuesday, with 30 Palestinians released by Israel.
The final 24 hours of the extended agreement begins later Wednesday, with one more exchange of hostages for prisoners expected, but mediator Qatar said it was hoping for a more durable arrangement.
“Our main focus right now, and our hope, is to reach a sustainable truce that will lead to further negotiations and eventually to an end… to this war,” foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari told a Doha news conference.
“However, we are working with what we have. And what we have right now is the provision to the agreement that allows us to extend days as long as Hamas is able to guarantee the release of at least 10 hostages.”
That provision has allowed the two-day extension that saw 10 Israeli hostages released from Gaza overnight Tuesday, along with two Thais freed outside the scope of the agreement.
An AFP journalist saw masked and armed fighters from Hamas and Islamic Jihad hand over hostages to Red Cross officials in Rafah, near the border with Egypt.
The Israeli hostages freed were all women, including 17-year-old Mia Leimberg, who returned to Israel with her mother and aunt.
The three were all abducted from kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, and the teenager was seen after her release holding her dog Bella.
There have been few direct accounts so far of the conditions faced by hostages, but the grandmother of 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi, who was released on Monday, said the boy had been held in solitary confinement for 16 days.
“The days that he was alone were horrible,” Esther Yaeli told Israeli news website Walla. “Now Eitan appears very withdrawn.”
‘High risk of famine’
Israel’s government has received a list of the new hostages to be freed Wednesday, local media reported. There was no official confirmation.
So far, 60 Israeli hostages have been freed from Gaza under the terms of the deal, with a Russian-Israeli, 20 Thais and one Filipino freed outside the scope of the agreement.
In return, 180 Palestinian prisoners — all women and minors — have been released.
Among them was 14-year-old Ahmad Salaima who returned to his home in east Jerusalem to cheers and hugs from relatives.
When Ahmed was in prison, we couldn’t visit him, even though he’s the youngest Palestinian prisoner at just 14 years old,” his father Nayef said.
The truce agreement has brought a temporary halt to fighting sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, which killed 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.
Israel’s subsequent aerial and land campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people, according to Hamas officials, and rendered large parts of the territory’s north uninhabitable.
The World Food Programme warned Tuesday that Gaza’s population faced a “high risk of famine if WFP is not able to provide continued access to food.”
Conditions in the territory are “catastrophic,” the agency’s Middle East director said, while a spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF said aid entering Gaza under the truce deal was “not even enough for triage.”
The dire humanitarian situation has piled on pressure for a more lasting pause or even an end to the fighting, though Israel has made clear it sees the truce as a brief interlude to ensure hostage releases before its war continues.
The head of the CIA and the director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency were in Doha to discuss the truce with Qatar’s prime minister, a source briefed on their visit said, asking not to be named because of the talks’ sensitivity.
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,” the source added.
( Source AFP)