GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters): International pressure grew on Israel and Hamas to extend a truce on Thursday (Nov 30) after another exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and humanitarian aid was delivered to the besieged Gaza Strip.
On Wednesday, 16 more hostages were released by Hamas on the final day of a two-day truce extension, which is set to expire early on Thursday. Israel's prison service said it released 30 more Palestinians from its jails in a sixth round of swaps. The exchanges are a core component of the arrangement, which was initially set at four days.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv early on Thursday, his third trip to the region since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, and was set to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss extending the temporary truce and boosting humanitarian aid into Gaza.
"Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll 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," Blinken said at a stop in Brussels.
Citing Israeli officials, Israeli media reported that the military would resume the attack on Gaza at 7am (0500 GMT) if the government did not receive a list of hostages to be released that met its criteria by that time. Israel, according to the reports, is demanding that at least 10 hostages be released on Thursday and that women and children be prioritised.
Jordan on Thursday will host a conference attended by the main UN, regional and international relief agencies to coordinate aid to Gaza, official media said.
The six-day truce has brought the first respite to Gaza in seven weeks. During that time, Israel bombarded the territory in response to a rampage by Hamas fighters on Oct. 7, when Israel says 1,200 people were kill and 240 were taken hostage.
Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza. Health authorities in Gaza say Israel's bombardment has so far killed more than 15,000 Gazans.
Biden determined to secure release of all hostages
US President Joe Biden was determined to secure the release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza after American Liat Beinin was freed on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement.
Some 97 hostages have been freed since the start of the truce, according to a Reuters tally. The Israeli military says 145 hostages remain in Gaza.
On Wednesday night, two Russian citizens and four Thai citizens were released outside the framework of the agreement while the 10 Israeli citizens freed included five dual nationals, officials said. They were a Dutch dual citizen, who is also a minor, three German dual citizens and one US dual citizen.
The pause and release of hostages and prisoners was mediated by Qatar, another country pushing for an extended truce.
"Qatar remains hopeful that the progress made in recent days can be sustained, and a further extension to the humanitarian pause agreement can be reached," Majed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Wednesday warned that the Gaza Strip was in the midst of an "epic humanitarian catastrophe," and he and others called for a ceasefire to replace the temporary truce.
"Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce - which we strongly welcome - but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire," he told a meeting of the UN security council.
China's foreign ministry said in a position paper on the conflict that the UN security council should respond to "the general call of the international community that a comprehensive ceasefire be put in place to stop the fighting."
Two Palestinian officials told Reuters that talks were continuing over a possible extension of the truce, but no agreement had yet been reached.
A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange of three Palestinian detainees for each Israeli hostage that has applied to the women and children.
The handover of hostages was overshadowed by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas, the largest armed group in Gaza, that a family of Israeli hostages including the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, had been killed during earlier Israeli bombardment.- Reuters