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Hamas says willing to extend truce for more hostage releases

By AFP - Nov 30,2023 - Last updated at Nov 30,2023

Children stand alongside fighters from the Al Qassam Brigades in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, on the 6th day of a truce in battles between Israel and Hamas (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Hamas is willing to extend a truce for four days and release more Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, a source close to the militant group said on Wednesday, as mediators sought a lasting halt to the conflict.

A current truce is scheduled to expire early Thursday after a six-day pause in a conflict sparked by sudden Hamas attacks that prompted a devastating Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

With 60 Israelis and 180 Palestinian prisoners already released and more set to walk free on Wednesday under the agreement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to travel to Israel later Wednesday to push for an extension of the pause in fighting.

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

Under that arrangement, "the movement 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.

Speaking after a NATO meeting in Brussels, Blinken said he would be "focused on doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in".

With tensions high despite the truce, the Palestinian health ministry in the occupied West Bank said an eight-year-old boy and a teenager were shot and killed by the Israeli forces on Wednesday in the territory.

The Israeli forces said it was "verifying" the information.

Violence has flared in the West Bank since the conflict erupted, with nearly 240 Palestinians killed there by Israeli forces or settlers, according to the ministry.

After a 48-hour extension of an initial four-day truce, a new group of 12 hostages, 10 Israelis plus two Thais, was freed from Gaza on Tuesday, with 30 Palestinians released by Israel.

An AFP journalist saw masked and armed fighters from Hamas and the 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.

Hamas has released more than 20 other hostages outside the scope of the truce agreement, mostly Thais.

Thailand’s foreign ministry said 17 of the released Thai hostages would arrive back in the kingdom on Thursday. It said about 13 Thais remained among the hostages held in Gaza.

Among the Palestinian prisoners freed in Tuesday’s exchange was 14-year-old Ahmad Salaima who returned to his home in occupied East Jerusalem to cheers and hugs from relatives.

Israel’s government has received a list of the new hostages to be freed on Wednesday, Israeli media reported. There was no official confirmation.

Some of the hostages in Gaza are in the hands of another Palestinian fighter group, Islamic Jihad.

Its spokesman Musab Al Breim told AFP on Tuesday in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis that “the war is now continuing in indirect negotiations with the Israeli occupier”.

He said his group and Hamas were “committed” to respecting the truce agreement “as long as the occupier does so, and we are ready to pursue a political route to make the occupier pay”.

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