More Israeli hostages, Palestinian prisoners expected to be freed as ceasefire continues

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An Israel-Hamas truce in the Gaza Strip stretched into a fifth day on Tuesday as the two sides completed the release of Israeli hostages and detained Palestinians under their original ceasefire deal and appeared poised to free more.

Israel on Monday said 11 Israelis had returned to the country from the Gaza Strip, bringing to 69 the total of Israeli and foreign hostages the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas has freed since Friday under the four-day truce.

Hamas took some 240 hostages during an Oct. 7 incursion into southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, prompting Israel to retaliate by bombing the coastal enclave and launching a ground offensive in its north.

The Israel Prison Service said 33 Palestinian prisoners were released on Monday from Israel’s Ofer prison in the West Bank and from a detention centre in Jerusalem, bringing the total number of Palestinians it has freed since Friday to 150.

Israeli forces clashed with some of the dozens of Palestinians who gathered outside Ofer prison near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank to await the release of Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Some of the protesters waved the flags of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group.

The ministry said a Palestinian was killed in the area, and that it was unclear if he had participated in the clashes. Palestinian media reported he was shot dead. Israel had no immediate comment on the incident.

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip and mounted a ground offensive in the north. More than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza’s Hamas-run government says, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Qatar, which along with Egypt has facilitated indirect talks between the two sides, said that there was an agreement to extend by two days the original four-day truce that was to expire on Monday.

“We have an extension … two more days,” Qatar’s U.N. Ambassador Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani told reporters after a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting, saying both sides were to release more people. “This is a very positive step.”

Each day since the truce began on Friday, Hamas has released some hostages while Israel has freed some Palestinians it holds. Of the 69 hostages freed by Hamas were 51 Israelis and 18 foreigners.

Ido Dan, a relative of Israelis Sahar Calderon, 16, and Erez Calderon, 12, spoke of the joy at their release on Monday mixed with anxiety about their father, Ofer, who is still being held.

“It is difficult to go from a state of endless anxiety about their fate to a state of relief and joy,” Dan said. “This is an exciting and heart-filling moment but … it is the beginning of a difficult rehabilitation process for Sahar and Erez, who are still young and have been through an unbearable experience.”

Israel previously said it would extend the truce by one day for every 10 more hostages released, providing some respite to Palestinians in the Mediterranean seaside strip from the war.

Israel has not commented on any agreement to extend the truce but, in what may be an implicit confirmation, the Israeli prime minister’s office said Israel’s government approved the addition of 50 female prisoners to its list of Palestinians for potential release if additional Israeli hostages are freed.

LIST OF HOSTAGES

Separately, Israel’s government has received a list of hostages who are expected to be released on Tuesday, Israel’s Army Radio reported, citing the Israeli prime minister’s office.

The Axios news website reported the list contained 10 hostages. There was no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office.

The U.S. State Department said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates this week to discuss sustaining aid flows to Gaza and freeing all hostages as well as U.S. principles for the future of Gaza and the need for an independent Palestinian state.

The original truce agreement allowed more aid trucks into Gaza, where the civilian population faces shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine. An estimated 1.8 million of the territory’s 2.3 million population are internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

While describing the extension as “a glimpse of hope and humanity,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said two more days was not enough time to meet Gaza’s aid needs.