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    More Israeli hostages freed by Hamas as truce in Gaza extends another day


    Hamas freed six hostages hours after releasing two Israeli women Thursday afternoon. All were handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza after eight weeks in captivity. They were brought to Israel for medical evaluations and to be reunited with their families, the Israeli military said.

    A busload of 30 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel was welcomed home in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Dozens of men, some holding green Hamas flags, greeted the prisoners. The men were hugged as the crowd chanted, “God is great.”

    RELATED: Israel, Hamas agree to extend truce, continue releasing hostages and prisoners

    International pressure has mounted for the truce to continue as long as possible after weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and more than three-quarters of the population of 2.3 million have been uprooted, leading to a humanitarian crisis.

    The cease-fire was set to expire Friday, though international mediators are working to extend it. The talks appear to be growing tougher, with Hamas having already freed most of the women and children it kidnapped on Oct. 7. The militants are expected to make greater demands in return for freeing scores of civilian men and soldiers. Roughly 140 hostages are believed to remain in Hamas captivity.

    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials on his third visit to the region since the start of the war, said he hoped the cease-fire could be extended and more hostages could be released.

    Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south with no exit, raising questions over how an Israeli offensive there can avoid heavy civilian casualties.

    Qatar and Egypt, which have played a key role in mediating, are seeking to prolong the deal by another two days, according to Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s State Information Service.

    The two attackers, brothers from a neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem, were killed. After the attack, six other members of the family were detained, and the government ordered their house demolished. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, casting it as retaliation for the killing of women and children in Gaza and the occupied West Bank and other Israeli “crimes.”

    Increasingly tense hostage talks

    Israel says it will maintain the truce until Hamas stops releasing captives, at which point it will resume military operations, even as the Biden administration has urged it to operate with far greater precision if it does so.

    Hamas said it handed over the two women released earlier Thursday to the Red Cross in Gaza City, suggesting they may have been held in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops have controlled much of the area for weeks and have been searching for hostages.

    Israel says around 125 men are still held hostage, including several dozen soldiers.

    The 240 Palestinians released so far under the cease-fire have mostly been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several of the freed women were convicted by military courts of attempting to attack soldiers, some of them after being found carrying scissors or knives near security positions.

    Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza. On Thursday, the military confirmed the death of Ofir Tzarfati, who was believed to be among the hostages, without providing any further details. The 27-year-old attended a music festival where at least 360 people were killed and several others were kidnapped on Oct. 7.

    Israel’s bombardment and invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

    Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.

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