Breakthrough in Gaza as truce extended for two days
Gaza has been reduced to rubble by Israel's relentless attacks. Photo: Getty
The ceasefire in Gaza will hold for another two days after Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their truce which was due to expire on Tuesday (AEDT).
Under the agreement brokered by Qatar, 10 Israeli hostages will be released on each extra day and three times the number of Palestinian prisoners.
The original truce, which brought a reprieve from the bombardment in Gaza, was due to end on Tuesday (AEDT) with the fourth exchange of hostages and prisoners from each side.
However as the deadline loomed on the final day, there was a hitch as Hamas was preparing to hand over 11 Israelis.
The White House said Hamas had intended to release children without their mothers, but Israel insisted they be returned together.
The disagreement led to a delay in the exchange.
So far Hamas has returned 39 of 50 agreed hostages while Israel has freed 117 Palestinians from jail.
White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said the US would “hope to see the pause extended further”.
Earlier, Hamas was reported to be seeking a four-day extension while Israel wanted to take it day by day.
An Israeli official reiterated Israel’s position that it would agree to an extra day of truce for the release of each group of 10 hostages.
In exchange, three times the number of Palestinian prisoners would be released each time.
As truce negotiations were underway, emotional photos showed four-year-old Israeli-US hostage Avigail Idan being reunited with her family.
Avigail was orphaned when her parents were killed by Hamas on October 7 and she was captured after running to hide at a neighbour’s property.
The young girl was held in captivity before her release on Monday (AEDT) and has since been reunited with her aunt and grandmother in Israel.
Her grandfather, Carmel Edan, told Reuters he “simply could not believe” she had been returned, thanking US President Joe Biden “for all the help he’s offered us.”
Omar Abdullah Al Hajj, 17, one of the detainees released on the weekend, told Reuters he had been kept in the dark about what was happening in the outside world.
“I can’t believe I’m free now but my joy is incomplete because we still have our brothers who remain in prison, and then there is all the news about Gaza that I am having to learn about now,” said Al Hajj, who Israel’s justice ministry accused of belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group and posing an security threat.
Orphaned Avigail Idan, 4, is reunited with her family (left) while a Palestinian boy is embraced after his release (right). Photo: Israeli PM’s office/Getty
The truce agreed last week was the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1200 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.
About 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Wide areas of the Hamas-ruled enclave have been flattened by Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardments, and a humanitarian crisis has unfolded as supplies of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run out.
Under the terms of the current deal, Hamas is due to release in total 50 Israeli women and children held hostage in Gaza.
There is no limit in the deal on the number of foreigners it can release.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that once the truce ends, “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 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.
UNRWA was awaiting Israeli clearance on Monday to send aid trucks and ambulances into northern Gaza.
“Too many people have lost their lives, too many people have lost their houses, so we welcome this ceasefire. We hope that this ceasefire is extended,” Thomas White, the director of UNRWA affairs, told Reuters.