Israel open to extending Gaza truce as international pressure mounts

If no extension is agreed then the temporary truce is due to expire Tuesday morning

By AFP

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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Published: Mon 27 Nov 2023, 8:14 PM

Israel said Monday it was open to extending a truce with Hamas if the Palestinian group continues to release hostages, as international pressure mounted for a longer pause in the Gaza fighting.

If no extension is agreed the temporary truce is due to expire at 7 am (0500 GMT) on Tuesday, threatening a return to intense fighting in a war that has already killed thousands.

US President Joe Biden, top EU envoy Josep Borrell and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have all joined a global chorus urging the parties to extend their temporary break in fighting.

Israel had put Hamas "on notice" that an "option for an extension" of the truce was open in order to bring home 50 more Israeli hostages in the coming days, government spokesman Eylon Levy told reporters, potentially implying a five-day extension.

As part of the truce deal, Hamas has so far released 39 Israeli hostages, including a four-year-old girl orphaned by the group's October 7 attack, with more expected later Monday.

Israel has freed 117 Palestinian prisoners in exchange under the terms of the agreement. A further 19 foreign nationals have also been released from Gaza under separate arrangements.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed this call as the truce entered its final 24 hours, saying: "The pause should be extended to make it sustainable and long lasting while working for a political solution."

"Nothing can justify the indiscriminate brutality Hamas unleashed against civilians," he said. "But one horror cannot justify another horror."

NATO chief Stoltenberg also weighed in, ahead of a meeting of allied foreign ministers in Brussels.

"I call for an extension of the pause. This would allow for much needed relief to the people of Gaza and the release of more hostages," he told journalists.

Hamas has signalled its willingness to extend the truce, with a source telling AFP the group told mediators they were open to prolonging it by "two to four days".

"The resistance believes it is possible to ensure the release of 20 to 40 Israeli prisoners" in that time, the source close to the movement said.

Under the truce, 50 hostages held by the militants were to be freed over four days in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. A built-in mechanism extends the truce if at least 10 Israeli captives are released each extra day.

But some hostages are believed to be held by Palestinian militant groups other than Hamas, potentially complicating future releases. Israel is also facing pressure from the families of hostages to extend the truce to secure more releases.

Three successive days of hostage releases have buoyed spirits in Israel, with tearful reunions weeks after Hamas militants poured across the border on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to Gaza's Hamas government.

Israel has faced mounting pressure to extend the pause mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, though its leaders have dismissed any suggestions of a lasting halt to the offensive.

"We continue until the end -- until victory," Netanyahu said in Gaza on Sunday, on the first visit by an Israeli premier since 2005.

His office has proposed a war budget of 30 billion shekels ($8 billion) for 90 days.

Wearing military fatigues and surrounded by soldiers, Netanyahu vowed to free all the hostages and "eliminate Hamas", in footage posted online by his office.

In another sign of mounting international concern, UN rights experts called Monday for independent investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out in Israel and the Palestinian territories since October 7.

Morris Tidball-Binz, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteur on torture, issued a joint statement stressing the need for "prompt, transparent and independent investigations".

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