Israel, Hamas appear to abide by truce, discuss further extensions
Israel said truce could extend indefinitely as long as Hamas release at least 10 hostages per day
CAIRO/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces and Hamas fighters appeared to be abiding by a truce for a fifth morning on Tuesday, after a four-day ceasefire was extended at the last minute for at least two days to let more hostages go free.
A single column of black smoke could be seen rising above the obliterated wasteland of the northern Gaza war zone from across the fence in Israel, but there was no sign of jets in the sky or rumble of explosions.
Both sides reported some Israeli tank fire in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City in the morning, but there were immediate reports of casualties. A spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces said: "After suspects approached IDF troops, an IDF tank fired a warning shot."
During the truce, Hamas fighters released 50 Israeli women and children as young as toddlers from among the 240 hostages they captured in southern Israel during a deadly rampage on Oct. 7. In return, Israel released 150 security detainees from its jails, all women and teenagers.
Hamas also separately released 19 foreign hostages, mainly Thai farmworkers, under separate deals parallel to the truce agreement.
Israel has said the truce could extend indefinitely as long as Hamas continues to release at least 10 hostages per day. But with fewer women and children left in captivity, keeping the guns quiet beyond Wednesday could require negotiating to free at least some Israeli men for the first time.
"We hope the Occupation (Israel) abides (by the agreement) in the next two days because we are seeking a new agreement, besides women and children, whereby other categories that we have that we can swap," Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya told Al Jazeera late on Monday.
That, he said, would entail "going towards an additional time period to continue swapping people at this stage".
Israeli security cabinet minister Gideon Saar told Army Radio that the two-day extension had been agreed under the terms of the original offer, and Israel remained willing to extend the truce further if more hostages were released. Israelis would know when the truce was over because the fighting would begin again.
"Immediately upon the completion of the hostage-recovery framework, the warfighting will be renewed," he said. "We have every intention of implementing the goals of the war as it applies to toppling Hamas in Gaza."
The truce so far has brought the first respite to the Gaza Strip in seven weeks, during which Israel bombed swathes of the territory, especially the north, including Gaza City, into a desolate moonscape.
More aid was able to reach the territory, which had been under a total Israeli siege.
Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, after its gunmen burst across the fence and went on a spree, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 240 captives.
Since then, Gaza health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israel's bombardment, around 40% of them children, with many more dead feared to be lost under rubble.
More than two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million people have lost their homes, trapped inside the enclave with supplies running out, with thousands of families sleeping rough in makeshift shelters with only the belongings they can carry.
CLASHES OUTSIDE PRISON
As Israel released the final 33 detainees under the original agreement on Monday night from its Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank, its forces clashed with some of the dozens of Palestinians waiting outside.
Some of the protesters waved the flags of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group. The Palestinian health ministry said one Palestinian was killed in the area. Israel had no immediate comment on the incident.
Israel added an additional 50 Palestinian women to its list of 300 detainees cleared for release under the truce, seen as a sign it was prepared to negotiate for more hostages to go free under further extensions.
Any release of male Israeli civilians would be expected to begin with fathers and husbands captured along with the children and women freed in recent days, like Ofer Calderon, whose daughters Sahar and Erez were freed on Monday.
"It is difficult to go from a state of endless anxiety about their fate to a state of relief and joy," said Ido Dan, a relative, about the release of the two girls.
"This is an exciting and heart-filling moment but ... it is the beginning of a difficult rehabilitation process for Sahar and Erez, who are still young and have been through an unbearable experience."