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Israel and Hamas agree to extend truce for seventh day as more hostages released

Israel and Hamas agree to extend truce for seventh day as more hostages released

Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary truce by another day minutes before it was set to expire on Thursday morning, mediator Qatar has said.

Negotiations on extending it came down to the wire, with last-minute disagreements over the hostages to be freed by Hamas in exchange for another day of a halt in fighting.

The Qatari foreign ministry said the truce was being extended under the same terms as in the past, under which Hamas has released 10 Israeli hostages per day in exchange for 30 Palestinian prisoners.

It comes as Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 16 hostages freed earlier by Hamas in Gaza.

The truce announcement came after Hamas said Israel had rejected a proposed list that included seven living captives and the remains of three who the group said were killed in previous Israeli airstrikes.

Israel later said Hamas submitted an improved list, paving the way for the extension.

Negotiators had been working well into Thursday to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce.

The expectation had been to extend the pause in fighting for at least another day or two, with the focus on releasing women and children.

The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, as the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.

International pressure has mounted for the ceasefire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis.

Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.

Still, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war.

"After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes," he said. "There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end."

He spoke ahead of a visit to the region by US secretary of state Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases. Mr Blinken arrived in Israel late on Wednesday.

So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas' rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the ceasefire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages.

Hamas leaders, including Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.

With Israeli troops holding much of northern Gaza, a ground invasion south will likely bring an escalating cost in Palestinian lives and destruction.

Most of Gaza's population is now crammed into the south. The truce has brought them relief from bombardment, but the days of calm have been taken up in a frenzied rush to obtain supplies to feed their families as aid enters in greater, but still insufficient, amounts.

The US, Israel's main ally, has shown greater reticence over the impact of the war in Gaza. The Biden administration has told Israel that if it launches an offensive in the south, it must operate with far greater precision.

Late on Wednesday, the Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals were returned to Israel and taken to hospitals to be reunited with their families. Two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release.

Hours later, Israel freed more Palestinian prisoners, expected to number 30 under the terms of the truce deal.