Israel-Hamas fail to agree next hostage swap, truce set to expire By Reuters

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© Reuters. A Palestinian prisoner reacts after being released amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 30, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Mohammad Salem and Emily Rose

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -A truce between Israel and Hamas was set to expire at 0500 GMT on Thursday as time ran down on efforts to prolong a six-day pause in fighting and an exchange of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners.

The truce, extended from its initial four days, brought the first respite in the bombardment of Gaza with much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million having been reduced to wasteland in response to a deadly rampage by Hamas militants into southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Doron Spielman, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said in a briefing on social media that no agreement had been reached regarding the next hostages to be released.

“And therefore, if this framework does expire, the (Israeli military) … are fully positioned and ready to simply relaunch our operations, our military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Hamas, which freed 16 hostages in exchange for 30 Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday, said Israel had refused to receive a further seven women and children and the bodies of three other hostages in exchange for extending the truce.

“This is despite confirming through mediators that this group is all the (Hamas) movement has in terms of detainees in the agreed-upon category,” Hamas said in a statement.

Hamas had earlier said a family of three Israeli hostages including the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, had been killed during Israel’s bombardment of the enclave.

Citing Israeli officials, Israeli media reported the military would resume attacks on Gaza at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) if the government did not receive a list of hostages to be released that met its criteria by that time.

Hamas’ armed wing told its fighters in the Gaza Strip to be ready to resume battle with Israel if the temporary truce is not renewed.

“The Al-Qassam Brigades asks its active forces to maintain high combat readiness in the last hours of the truce,” the militant group said in a statement.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, in response to the Oct. 7 rampage by the militant group, when Israel says gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

Before the truce, Israel bombarded the territory for seven weeks and killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the coastal strip.

RELEASE OF ALL HOSTAGES

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv early on Thursday, his third trip to the region since the Oct. 7 attack, and was set to meet Israeli leaders to discuss extending the temporary truce and boosting humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll be focused on … doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in,” Blinken said at a stop in Brussels.

U.S. President Joe Biden was determined to secure the release of all hostages held by Hamas after American Liat Beinin was freed on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement.

The U.S. is urging Israel to narrow the zone of combat and clarify where Palestinian civilians can seek safety during any Israeli operation in southern Gaza, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, to prevent a repeat of the massive death toll from Israel’s northern Gaza attacks.

Ninety-seven hostages have been freed since the start of the truce, according to a Reuters tally. The Israeli military says 145 hostages remain in Gaza.

On Wednesday night, two Russian citizens and four Thai citizens were released outside the framework of the agreement while the 10 Israeli citizens freed included five dual nationals, officials said. They were a Dutch dual citizen, who is also a minor, three German dual citizens and one U.S. dual citizen.

The ceasefire and release of hostages and prisoners was mediated by Qatar, another country pushing for an extended truce.

“Qatar remains hopeful that the progress made in recent days can be sustained, and a further extension to the humanitarian pause agreement can be reached,” Majed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.

Jordan will host a conference attended by the main U.N., regional and international relief agencies on Thursday to coordinate aid to Gaza, official media said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday the Gaza Strip was in the midst of an “epic humanitarian catastrophe,” and he and others called for a ceasefire to replace the temporary truce.

“Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce – which we strongly welcome – but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

China called on the Security Council on Thursday to formulate a “concrete” timetable and roadmap for a two-state solution to achieve a “comprehensive, just and lasting” settlement of the Palestinian issue.

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