- A truce between Israel and Hamas will continue, both sides said moments before the deal was due to expire, though details of any official agreement remained unclear.
- Qatar, which has led the truce negotiations, confirmed the pause had been extended until Friday.
- There had been pressure to extend the pause to allow more hostage releases and additional aid into devastated Gaza.
- Israel’s subsequent air and ground campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians, according to Hamas officials.
- Ninety-seven hostages have been freed since the start of the truce, according to a Reuters tally. The Israeli military says 145 hostages remain in Gaza.
Israel and Hamas struck a last-minute agreement on Thursday to extend their six-day ceasefire by one more day to allow negotiators to keep working on deals to swap hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners. The truce has allowed much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza after much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million was reduced to wasteland by Israel’s bombardment in response to a deadly rampage by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
Hamas, which freed 16 hostages in exchange for 30 Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday, said in a statement the truce would continue for a seventh day. The conditions of the ceasefire, including the halt of hostilities and the entry of humanitarian aid, remain the same, according to a Qatar foreign ministry spokesperson. Qatar has been a key mediator between the warring sides, along with Egypt and the United States.
Before the agreement, both Israel and Hamas had said they were preparing to resume fighting as negotiations over the next batch of hostages to be released hit an impasse. Hamas earlier said Israel had refused to receive a further seven women and children and the bodies of three other hostages in exchange for extending the truce. Hamas did not name those killed but had said on Wednesday a family of three Israeli hostages, including the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, had died during Israel’s bombardment of the enclave.
Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, in response to the Oct. 7 rampage by the militant group, when Israel says gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages. Before the truce, Israel bombarded the territory for seven weeks and killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the coastal strip.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had arrived in Tel Aviv earlier on Thursday, his third trip to the region since the Oct. 7 attacks, to discuss extending the pause in fighting, humanitarian aid, and the exchange of more hostages. Ninety-seven hostages have been freed since the start of the truce, according to a Reuters tally. The Israeli military says 145 hostages remain in Gaza.
U.S. President Joe Biden was determined to secure the release of all hostages held by Hamas after American Liat Beinin was freed on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement.
The U.S. is urging Israel to narrow the zone of combat and clarify where Palestinian civilians can seek safety during any Israeli operation in southern Gaza, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, to prevent a repeat of the massive death toll from Israel’s northern Gaza attacks.
(With inputs from agencies)