Qatar said on Monday that mediators had reached an agreement to extend a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas by two days to free more hostages held in Gaza.
The announcement to extend the original four-day ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas war, which was due to end on Monday, came as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faced domestic and international pressure to grant more time for the release of hostages.
The Israeli military said Monday evening that Hamas had freed 11 more hostages. Qatar says Israel has released 33 more Palestinian prisoners.
Majid al-Ansari, a spokesman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, announced an agreement to “extend the humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for two more days” as part of his country’s mediation between Israel and Hamas.
A Palestinian militant group confirmed it had agreed to extend the ceasefire by two days “under the same conditions as the previous ceasefire”. Israel has not yet commented on the deal.
Ansari did not specify how many hostages would be released in the next 48 hours. But negotiators had earlier said Hamas would release 20 more women and children detained in Gaza if the ceasefire was extended by two days.
In return, Israel would release another 60 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.
Last week, under a ceasefire brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States, Hamas agreed to stagger the release of 50 women and children held in Gaza for four days. Israel said it would provide more aid to the besieged area and release 150 Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons.
Hamas and other militants captured around 240 civilians and soldiers during a deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel.
The US welcomed the extension of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire and said it would like to see the truce extended beyond an additional two days.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that we will not stop until all the hostages of Hamas terrorists are freed.
He added that the cessation of hostilities and help in the release of hostages had led to a “significant upsurge” in humanitarian aid in Gaza.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will visit Israel and the occupied West Bank this weekend, a State Department official said.
Blinken will “stress the need to maintain an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza, release all hostages and improve security for civilians in Gaza,” the official added.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told the Financial Times on Sunday that Hamas must find other fighters, civilians and women and children held by gangs in Gaza if the ceasefire is to be extended.
He said Israel had provided Qatar with a list of more than 90 women and children captured during Hamas’ October 7 offensive.
But when the original hostage deal was brokered last week, it was agreed that 50 women and children would be released because that was the number Hamas had said, Sheikh Mohammed said.
An official briefed on the talks said Hamas hoped to use the initial four-day pause to find 20 more women and children held hostage.
“The assumption is that most of these were carried out by Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the official added, referring to a smaller militant group.
“The hope now is that Hamas will be able to find more hostages during the two-day extension.”
A Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, told Al Arabi television, “The group is engaged in searching for the missing people. [hostages]”.
We are ready to negotiate on the captured occupation [Israeli] players, but this file has not been opened yet,” he said. “These soldiers have a different situation, and Netanyahu knows this.”
11 more hostages arrived in Israel from Gaza on Monday evening, including three women and eight children.
Qatar said the 11 included three French nationals, three Germans and six Argentine nationals.
Qatar said three women and 30 children were among the 33 Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel on Monday.
Recent releases include the release of 50 women and children from prison in Gaza. In turn, Israel has released 150 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons.
The victory over soft hostages for prisoners has boosted national sentiment in Israel and raised hopes that the deal could be extended.
News of the release of the hostages has been covered in wall-to-wall media coverage in Israel, while thousands of Palestinians gather outside the Ofer prison between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem every evening to celebrate the release and boost Hamas’ political standing.
Speaking at a celebration for the release of an Israeli hostage, Noam Alon, whose girlfriend Inbar Haiman was taken from the Noah music festival on October 7, vowed to press for the release of the hostages “at any cost.”
“We expect everyone to be released and we want our government to do everything to continue the deal,” he said.
Netanyahu on Sunday said he would “welcome” the prospect of more hostages being released, but insisted Israel was ready to resume hostilities against Hamas.
Israeli officials believe Hamas will seek more and more high-quality prisoners in exchange for each hostage, beyond the initial deal.
According to Palestinian officials, Israeli forces have seized large swaths of northern Gaza through aerial bombardment and a ground invasion that has killed at least 14,800 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis.
According to Israeli officials, around 1,200 people were killed in the October 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel.
Additional reporting by Heba Saleh in Cairo and Raya Jalabi in Beirut