A four-day truce in Gaza expires on Monday; however, Egyptian security officials claimed that negotiations including Qatar, Egypt, and the United States were drawing closer to extending the agreement, which has put an end to seven weeks of bloodshed.
According to the sources, negotiations regarding the release of Palestinian inmates are still ongoing. Israel wants day-by-day extensions, while the Palestinian organization Hamas seeks a four-day extension.
An Israeli official earlier reiterated Israel’s position that it would agree to an extra day of truce for each additional 10 hostages freed and to release three times the number of Palestinians each time. The number of additional days is capped at five, the official added.
A Palestinian official, familiar with the truce talks, said both Hamas and Israel had shown a positive attitude to requests to extend the pause in fighting, but added that “a final decision hasn’t yet been reached”.
On Sunday, Hamas freed 17 people, including a 4-year-old Israeli-American girl, bringing the total number the militant group has released since Friday to 58, including foreigners. Israel freed 39 teenage Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, taking the total number of Palestinians freed under the truce to 117.
Under the terms of the current deal, Hamas is due to release in total 50 Israeli women and children held hostage in Gaza, which means that 11 remained to be freed on Monday. There is no limit in the deal on the number of foreigners it can release.
An Israeli government spokesperson said on Monday that the total number of hostages still held in Gaza was now 184, including 14 foreigners and 80 Israelis with dual nationality.
Both Israel and Hamas raised concerns over Monday’s lists and Qatari mediators were working with them to resolve the issues and avoid delays, an official briefed on the matter told Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it was reviewing the list of Palestinian prisoners it had received from Hamas for release on Monday and would provide further information when possible.
Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan, speaking to Lebanon’s LBC broadcaster, said the group would try to find more hostages to release and thus prolong the truce. Hamas has previously said it is not holding all the hostages who were brought to Gaza.
Once the truce ends, Netanyahu said at the weekend, “we will return with full force to achieve our goals: the elimination of Hamas; ensuring that Gaza does not return to what it was; and of course the release of all our hostages.”
Palestinians in Gaza said on Monday they were praying for an extension of the truce. Some were visiting homes reduced to rubble by weeks of intensive Israeli bombardment, while others queued for flour and other essential aid being delivered by the United Nations’ relief agency UNRWA.
The al-Sultan family, among hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes in the north of the Gaza Strip, snatched a few hours of sorely needed relaxation by the sea.
“We used these four days (of truce) and came to the beach in Deir Al-Balah to allow our children to have some fun,” their mother, Hazem Al Sultan, said. “We are anticipating the end of these four days, and we don’t know what will happen to us next.”
Palestinians gave the freed prisoners a jubilant reception in Ramallah, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Omar Abdullah Al Hajj, 17, released on Sunday, told Reuters he’d been kept in the dark about what was happening in the outside world.
“We were 11 people crammed into a single room where usually there are six. There was never enough food and I was never told how long I was going to stay,” he said.
“I can’t believe I’m free now but my joy is incomplete because we still have our brothers who remain in prison,” said Al Hajj, whom Israel’s Justice Ministry accused of belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group and posing a security threat which it did not specify.
The truce agreed last week is the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages back into Gaza.
In response to that attack, Israel has bombarded the enclave and mounted a ground offensive in the north. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Qatar, Egypt, the United States, the European Union and Spain were all working to extend the ceasefire, the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, said during a conference in Barcelona devoted to the crisis.
Al-Maliki, whose Authority runs the occupied West Bank, told the Forum for the Union of the Mediterranean that the international community must pressure Israel to extend the truce indefinitely. The death toll would double if war resumes on Tuesday, he added.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, told the same conference the current truce was an important first step but that far more would be needed to alleviate the situation.
Borrell also urged Israel not to “recolonise Gaza”, saying that the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza was the best guarantee of Israel’s peace and security.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Hamas could no longer rule Gaza after hostilities end since it did not have “an agenda for peace”.