Israel and Hamas agreed to lengthen their truce for at least another day, allowing for the release of more hostages held by the militant group in Gaza.
The two sides announced the extension minutes before their cease-fire was due to end at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday, underscoring the fraught nature of the negotiations.
The truce began on Nov. 24, marking the first halt in fighting since the war erupted on Oct. 7. That day, Hamas attacked southern Israeli communities from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 captive.
Under the deal, Hamas frees some of those hostages each day, while Israel releases jailed Palestinians. In addition, Israel is allowing more aid into Gaza, where the United Nations says the humanitarian situation is “catastrophic” following Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes and a ground offensive.
More than 15,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, according to Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The talks over hostages have mainly been mediated by Qatar, with American and Egyptian involvement.
“The process is producing results,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday in Tel Aviv, before meeting Israeli President Isaac Herzog. “It’s important and we hope it will continue.”
Blinken also met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that he wanted to speak about “the next phase” of the war, without elaborating.
Egypt and Qatar want to extend the cease-fire for an additional two days, according to Egypt’s State Information Service. Qatar has said it will persist with efforts to broker a permanent end to hostilities.
The pause in the war and hopes for further diplomatic progress have boosted Israel’s stocks and currency. Tel Aviv’s main equity index has jumped almost 20% in dollar terms this month. The shekel is poised for a 9% rally against the dollar, the best performance among currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
It may be temporary. Netanyahu has repeatedly said the war will continue until Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, is destroyed.
The Israeli military described the latest extension in the truce as a “tactical pause”.
“There is no situation in which we do not go back to fighting until the end,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday. “The entire security cabinet is behind it. The entire government is behind it. The soldiers are behind it. The people are behind it. This is exactly what we will do.”
Hamas released 10 more hostages on Wednesday night – five children and five women, including dual nationals of the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands. Israel released 30 Palestinians from jails. In a separate deal, Hamas let go four Thai and two Russian-Israeli citizens.
After the latest exchange, 145 hostages are still believed held in Gaza. It is not yet known how many of them are dead or are soldiers.
The Israeli website Ynet said Hamas planned to free 8 hostages and three bodies next.
Hamas’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, asked its forces to remain on high alert, in anticipation of a renewal of fighting should the sides fail to prolong the truce again.
Israel’s troops are “ready for the continuation of the war,” army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.
While the cease-fire in Gaza continues to hold, in the north “a suspicious aerial target” crossed from Lebanon into Israel and was shot down, the army said.
In Jerusalem, gunmen from the eastern, mostly-Arab part of the city killed three Israelis before being shot themselves, Israeli police said. Hamas claimed the attack.
Herzog told Blinken the Jerusalem incident was another example of the “endless war that we are fighting against terror organizations, especially Hamas.”
Saudi Arabia Offers Iran Investment to Blunt Gaza War
The conflict seems to be bringing former rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia closer. In a rare call, Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman told the head of the Iranian military, Mohammad Bagheri, he “welcomed the increase in the level of cooperation of the armed forces of the two countries.”
Saudi Arabia has approached Iran with an offer to boost cooperation and invest in its sanctions-stricken economy if the Islamic Republic stops its regional proxies from turning the war into a wider conflict, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.