Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their truce for another day on Wednesday, but only after a last-minute scramble to finalize a list of 10 hostages that Israel demanded as a condition for the extension.
Sources familiar with the talks told CNN that the Israeli government reluctantly accepted a proposal from Hamas to release eight new Israeli hostages on Thursday, in addition to two Israeli-Russian hostages who were freed on Wednesday. Israel had previously rejected Hamas’ lists that included the corpses of three hostages and three elderly people, insisting on live women and children.
Hamas claimed that it had difficulty finding more women and children among the hostages, and delayed handing over an acceptable list until the truce was about to expire. The sources said that the negotiations were fluid and the number of hostages released on Thursday could still change.
The truce is now in a precarious day-to-day extension phase, where Hamas has to provide a new list of 10 hostages every day to keep the fighting at bay. The sources said that the negotiators were anxious about the possibility of extending the truce for an eighth day, given the challenges faced by Hamas in locating more hostages.
The new details about the talks on Wednesday highlighted the uncertainty of the current truce in the Israel-Hamas war, which has the parties involved preparing for the next steps after the pause. There are serious doubts about whether the deal can last another day or whether Israel will resume its military campaign.
The negotiators had anticipated that Hamas would run out of women and children to offer after the two-day extension of the truce, and that Israel would restart its operations as soon as this weekend if Hamas could not release any more live hostages. Israel has argued that military pressure is necessary to secure the release of hostages, and that Hamas will demand better terms for the release of civilian men and Israeli soldiers of both genders. The deal that was reached last week only covered women and children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear on Wednesday, the sixth day of the pause in the fighting, that Israel was ready to go back to war after retrieving its hostages. “I have been asked this question over the past few days – will Israel return to fighting after maximizing this phase of bringing back our hostages?” he said. “My answer is unequivocal – Yes.”
The Biden administration said it has urged Israel to be more careful and precise than before the pause in the fighting, as the operations are expected to shift to southern Gaza where most Gazans have been displaced.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday and stressed the need for Israel to protect civilians in southern Gaza before launching IDF military operations there.
“Israel must act in accordance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, even when facing a terrorist group that respects neither,” Blinken said at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
Blinken urges Netanyahu to safeguard civilians as truce hangs by a thread
Blinken said that Netanyahu “concurred with this approach” to minimize civilian casualties and that the Israeli government proposed “specific measures” to ensure civilian protection.
“We are aware of specific measures – which I cannot disclose here tonight – that can guarantee, to the extent possible, that this will happen,” said Blinken.
It is unclear how much Israel will heed this advice.
“Israel and the US administration are engaged in close consultations on various issues,” an Israeli official said, “including the need to maintain pressure on Hamas after the truce and the need to provide humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in Gaza. In these consultations, Israel is very receptive to the U.S. viewpoint.