Israel and Hamas Exchange More Captives as Truce’s End Looms

(Bloomberg) -- Israel and Hamas exchanged more captives late Wednesday, as hopes grew that negotiators from Qatar and the US could persuade the two sides to again extend a truce agreement set to expire within a few hours.

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The 10 hostages released by Hamas — five children and five women, including dual nationals of the US, Germany and the Netherlands — prompted Israel to release 30 Palestinians, in keeping with the terms of previous exchanges. In a separate deal, Hamas let go four Thai and two Russian-Israeli citizens.

“Qatar remains hopeful that the progress made in recent days can be sustained,” Qatar foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said.

On a trip to Colorado, President Joe Biden told reporters that Liat Beinin, a US citizen, was among those freed. “She has crossed the border. I talked with her mother and father,” Biden said. They’re very appreciative and things are moving well. She’ll soon be home with her three children.

The latest round of exchanges was announced at about the same time that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken touched down in Tel Aviv for his third visit since the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured more than 240.

Blinken’s arrival and the continuing negotiations prompted fresh hope that the two sides will agree to prolong their cease-fire, which is set to expire at 7 a.m. local time (12 a.m. eastern). One person familiar with the negotiations, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations, said another two-day extension looked likely. The person said the truce could extend even longer.

Even so, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to dash hopes of a long-term cease-fire, saying his country ultimately intends to resume warfare to eliminate Hamas and the threat it poses.

“There is no situation in which we do not go back to fighting until the end. This is my policy,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “The entire Security Cabinet is behind it. The entire government is behind it. The soldiers are behind it. The people are behind it – this is exactly what we will do.”

Israel is pressing for the release of more hostages and would accept an extension of the current truce, a senior Israeli official said, but the country won’t discuss a new cease-fire deal involving the return of more hostages, including men and soldiers, until all civilian women and children are freed.

Axios reporter Barak Ravid wrote on the X social media platform that Israeli officials said fighting would resume if Hamas doesn’t produce by 7 a.m. local time a list of hostages to be released that includes 10 women and children. Hamas had proposed via mediators to release fewer than 10 hostages or hostages that are not women and children, he wrote.

Read More: Prospects for a Continuing Israel-Hamas Truce: Big Take Podcast

It’s not exactly clear how many more women and children remain in captivity. The latest releases would bring the number of Israeli hostages released to more than 70, all of them civilian women or children. The militant group and other armed factions in Gaza are still holding soldiers and civilian men, women and children.

Others involved in discussing what will follow the expiring pause in fighting also staked out firm positions, at least in public.

“A truce is not enough - what is needed is a cease-fire,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan told reporters at United Nations headquarters in New York. “What is needed is a credible peace and a peace that lasts and that allows the Palestinians and the Israelis to live side-by-side in two states.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office confirmed the release Wednesday of two female hostages with Russian-Israeli citizenship.

Also, the IDF said it was evaluating a claim from Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, that three hostages — a mother and two young children — were killed by Israeli strikes on Gaza. “The IDF is assessing the accuracy of the information,” it said, adding that Hamas was “responsible for the security of all hostages.”

Before the six-day cease-fire, Israel had mounted an intense bombing and ground invasion campaign of Gaza that reduced much of the territory’s biggest city to rubble and, according to local authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, killed more than 15,000 Palestinians.

Egyptian and Qatari officials were in contact to potentially extend the truce for two more days, Al-Qahera News reported Wednesday. The Cairo-based broadcaster typically represents the Egyptian government’s views. Agence France-Presse cited an individual close to Hamas as saying the Islamist group was open to a four-day extension.

The pause in fighting in Gaza has allowed the entry of more humanitarian aid into the stricken Mediterranean strip, where conditions are “catastrophic,” according to the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia has approached Tehran, which in addition to Hamas backs Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi militants in Yemen, with an offer to boost investment in Iran’s sanctions-stricken economy if it stops its proxies from widening the Israel-Hamas conflict, Arab and Western officials familiar with the matter said.

--With assistance from Michael Gunn, Fiona MacDonald, Ethan Bronner, Sam Dagher, Greg Sullivan and Jon Herskovitz.

(Updates with social media post concerning hostages in paragraph 10.)

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