CAIRO/JERUSALEM, Nov 28 (Reuters) – An Israel-Hamas truce in Gaza was poised to stretch into a fifth day on Tuesday amid expectations the Islamist group will free more of the hostages it seized on Oct. 7 in return for greater aid flows and Israel’s release of imprisoned Palestinians.
After releasing 11 Israelis from the coastal Mediterranean strip on Monday, Hamas has freed 69 of the about 240 hostages it took during an incursion into southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures.
Hamas-affiliated media reported early on Tuesday that Israel freed 30 Palestinian children and three women, in the truce’s fourth swap.
Waving Palestinian, Hamas and Islamic Jihad flags, dozens of Palestinians gathered outside Israel’s Ofer prison near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank to await the release of additional Palestinians. Palestinians reported that the Israeli army had fired tear gas at the crowd.
In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip enclave 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 negotiations 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 four-day truce began on Friday, Hamas has released some of the hostages while Israel has freed some of the Palestinians it holds.
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, which has killed thousands and laid waste to the enclave.
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 has approved the addition of 50 female prisoners to its list of Palestinians for potential release if additional Israeli hostages are freed.
Under the terms of existing four-day truce agreement, Hamas was due to release in total 50 Israeli women and children held hostage in Gaza. There was no limit in the deal on the number of foreigners it could release.
A senior U.S. official 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.
It was not clear how many hostages would be released under the extended truce agreement, but earlier the head of Egypt’s State Information Service, Diaa Rashwan, said the deal being negotiated would include the release of 20 Israeli hostages and 60 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Reporting By Reuters Bureaux; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Cynthia Osterman