WRAPUP 10-Israeli hostage handover is under way in Gaza, Palestinian official says
A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange of three Palestinian detainees for each Israeli hostage that has applied to the women and children. LISTS OF NAMES Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal. So far Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from among 240 hostages, under the deal that secured the war's first truce.
The handover of more Israeli hostages by Hamas is under way in Gaza, a Palestinian official familiar with the truce efforts told Reuters on Wednesday, the final day of a two-day extension of a truce in the Gaza war. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, an ally of Hamas, said earlier it had handed over several civilian hostages as part of an exchange deal that also involves the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Gaza's Hamas rulers were expected to free at least 10 hostages on Wednesday under the terms of the truce agreement. The reported handover was overshadowed by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas, the largest militant group in Gaza, that a family of Israeli hostages, including the youngest hostage, baby Kfir Bibas, had been killed during earlier Israeli bombardment.
Israeli officials said they were checking the Hamas report about the Bibas family, a very emotive issue in Israel where the family -- 10-month-old Kfir, his 4-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri -- is among the most high-profile hostages. Relatives of the Bibas family said they had been informed of the Hamas report. "We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials," a statement from the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said.
The Israeli military said two Israeli hostages were freed on Wednesday in a move it said was additional to the scheduled releases, and were with Israeli special forces inside Israeli territory. After the two undergo an initial medical assessment, IDF soldiers will accompany them to hospitals to be reunited with their families, it said. The hostages are among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which they killed 1,200 people. Israel's bombardment of Gaza in retaliation has killed more than 15,000 Gazans, according to health authorities in the Palestinian enclave.
Two Palestinian officials told Reuters that talks were continuing over a possible extension of the truce, which is scheduled to expire early on Thursday, but no agreement had yet been reached. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, said he would work with the Israelis during a trip there in the coming days to see if the temporary ceasefire could be extended.
An Israeli official said earlier it would be impossible to extend the ceasefire without a commitment to release all women and children among the hostages. The official said Israel believed that militants were still holding enough women and children to prolong the truce by two to three days. A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange of three Palestinian detainees for each Israeli hostage that has applied to the women and children.
LISTS OF NAMES Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal.
So far Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from among 240 hostages, under the deal that secured the war's first truce. Twenty-one foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals. In return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers.
The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel says it would be willing to prolong it for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day. But with fewer women and children held, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated earlier pledges to pursue the war to destroy Hamas once the ceasefire lapses.
"There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end. This is my policy, the entire cabinet stands behind it, the entire government stands behind it, the soldiers stand behind it, the people stand behind it - this is exactly what we will do," Netanyahu said in a statement. The truce has brought the first respite to a war launched by Israel to destroy Hamas and which has reduced much of Gaza to a wasteland.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday the Gaza Strip was in the midst of an "epic humanitarian catastrophe" and urged the world not to look away. "Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce – which we strongly welcome - but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire," he told the U.N. Security Council.
The Palestinian official news agency WAFA said six Palestinians including two children were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Israel said two of the men were killed in counterterrorism operations and one was a senior Islamic Jihad operative
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