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Hamas open to truce extension as US urges Gaza 'safe' zones

Hamas open to truce extension as US urges Gaza 'safe' zones
4 min read
01 December, 2023
Hamas has said it wants to extend a truce with Israel for further releases of hostages and prisoners, while the US urged Israel to set up safe zones for civilians in Gaza.
A truce between Hamas and Israel has held for seven days [Getty]

Hamas is willing to further extend a truce for hostage and prisoner exchanges, a source close to the Palestinian group said Thursday, and the United States urged Israel to set up safe zones for Gaza civilians as a pause in its deadly war neared expiry.

International pressure has risen for a lasting halt to the war, which began following a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, which killed around 1,200 Israelis.

Over 15,000 Palestinian civilians, most of them women and children, have been killed in six weeks of a ferocious and indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

As the latest group of Israeli hostages was released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, a source close to the Hamas said it was willing to extend the truce that has paused weeks of deadly Israeli bombardment and enabled aid to reach Gaza civilians. Israel had yet to respond.

With the current truce nearing expiry early Friday following a seven-day pause, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an extension after meeting with leaders in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

"Clearly, we want to see this process continue to move forward," he told reporters in Tel Aviv. "We want an eighth day and beyond."

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Israel "must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimise further casualties of innocent Palestinians", he said, "including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza, where they can be safe and out of the line of fire".

A source close to Hamas, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media, told AFP the Islamist movement was "willing to extend the truce".

"The mediators are currently making strong, intense and continuous efforts for an additional day in the truce and then working to extend it again for other days," the source said.

International bodies have called for more time to allow medical supplies, food and fuel into Gaza following weeks of Israel's indiscriminate bombardment.

"We have seen over the last week the very positive development of hostages coming home, being reunited with their families," Blinken said earlier at a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv.

"It's also enabled an increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately. So this process is producing results. It's important, and we hope that it can continue."

He later told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it was "imperative" to protect civilians in southern Gaza "before any military operations there".

Before the truce, ferocious attacks by Israeli ground and air forces had forced an estimated 1.7 million people - around 80 percent of Gaza's population - to leave their homes and limited the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel, according to the UN.

The initial four-day truce has been extended for three days following work by international mediators, led by Qatar.

Israel has however vowed to continue with its offensive to destroy Hamas once the truce process has run its course.

"We swore... to eliminate Hamas, and nothing will stop us," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video released by his office, after meeting with Blinken.

Prisoner exchange

Hamas freed two Israeli women hostages in the latest round of exchanges under the existing truce, followed by six more hostages later in the evening, according to Israeli authorities.

Qatari officials mediating in the conflict said those eight people included nationals of Mexico, Russia and Uruguay.

Two others, Russian-Israeli dual citizens, were released on Wednesday night, as part of the group of 10 scheduled for Thursday.

In exchange, 30 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli jails, prison authorities said, including 23 minors and seven women.

Since the truce began on November 24, 80 Israeli hostages and 240 Palestinian prisoners have been released.

More than 20 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, have been freed outside the scope of the agreement.

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Residents of the Gaza Strip, however, are afraid that Israel will resume its deadly bombardment.

"We are afraid that the truce will end, so the problems and the bombings will start again," Gaza City resident Mohamad Naasan told AFPTV on Thursday.

"I hope that the truce resumes... so peace prevails, and we all go back home."

The Israeli bombardment of  Gaza has been accompanied by increasing attacks in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Only hours after the latest truce extension, Hamas claimed responsibility for a shooting in Jerusalem Thursday that killed three people and called for an "escalation of the resistance".

The two gunmen, who police said were from annexed east Jerusalem, were shot dead at the scene, a bus stop in the western part of the city.

Separately, two Israeli soldiers were slightly injured in a ramming attack on a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the army said, adding the assailant had also been "shot and neutralised".