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Israel and Hamas negotiate including adult men in hostage-for-prisoner swap

The heads of the intelligence services of Israel, the U.S. and Egypt are seeking in Doha a new extension of the agreement, which the Arab mediators want to turn into a definitive ceasefire. For its part, the Israeli army warns that it is ‘ready to continue fighting’

Guerra entre Israel y Gaza
A Palestinian woman hugs her 14-year-old son, killed by an Israeli attack, during his funeral in Tubas, in the West Bank, on Tuesday.RANEEN SAWAFTA (REUTERS)
Antonio Pita

The agreement between Israel and Hamas moves forward with the same parameters under which it was extended until early Thursday morning: the Palestinian Islamist militia hands over Israeli women and minors captured in its October 7 attack (60, with those freed on Tuesday, plus another 21 foreigners) in exchange for the release of three times as many Palestinian prisoners (including women and minors), a ceasefire and the entry into Gaza from Egypt of 200 truckloads of humanitarian aid. However, both sides are already negotiating in Qatar, the main mediator in the ongoing war, to extend the truce for a few more days, but with new changes. The main one: to include adult males in the exchange. The directors of Mossad, David Barnea; of the CIA, William Burns; and of the Egyptian intelligence services, Abbas Kamel, were negotiating in Doha on Tuesday.

The two Arab mediators, Qatar and Egypt, are seeking to take advantage of the rapprochement generated by the dialogue to transform it into a definitive ceasefire. “Or at least a longer truce,” thanks to the “positive momentum” that has been generated, said Majed Al Ansari, spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry, at a press conference.

As the pact brings humanitarian respite to a shattered and blockaded Gaza, the U.N. World Food Program has also called for a permanent cessation of hostilities. “Six days is simply not enough to provide all the assistance needed. The people of Gaza need to eat every day, not just for six days,” its director for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe, Corinne Fleischer, was quoted as saying in a statement.

Israel, for its part, is pressing for the new version of the agreement to include soldiers in the exchanges. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) vehemently refuse to leave Gaza without wiping out Hamas, and its chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, made this clear again on Tuesday: “We are using the days of pause within the framework to learn, to bolster our readiness and to approve future operational plans […] We are preparing to continue fighting to dismantle Hamas. It will take time, these are complex goals, but they are more than justified.” And in case Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is thinking of agreeing to any sort of permanent ceasefire, the Israeli Minister of National Security, the far-right Itamar Ben Gvir, issued a very clear warning via X (formerly Twitter): “Stopping the war = dissolution of the government.”

Corpses in exchange for prisoners

Hamas also wants to make changes to the pact if it is to be extended past Thursday morning. “We hope the occupation [Israel] abides [by the agreement] in the next two days because we are seeking a new agreement, besides women and children, whereby other categories” may be included in the swap, Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya told Al Jazeera late on Monday. “Other categories” opens the door to the delivery of corpses in exchange for the release of prisoners, as Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah agreed in 2008.

The fifth exchange was completed Tuesday. Hamas handed over 12 hostages —10 Israeli women and two Thai nationals — to the International Committee of the Red Cross at Rafah, the border crossing with Egypt. They are already in Israeli territory, setting in motion the release of 30 Palestinian prisoners (half of them minors, the other half women) to the occupied territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

At least three of the 10 released Israelis are also Argentine nationals. One is Gabriela Leimberg, 59. She immigrated to Israel in the 1990s and lived in Jerusalem with her teenage daughter Mia. They were freed together on Tuesday. The two had gone to visit Gabriela’s sister Clara Merman, 63, at the kibbutz near Gaza where she lived, Nir Yitzhak, the Hostages and Missing Persons Forum said. The third is Ofelia Roitman, 77, an educator who ran Jewish schools in her native country and settled in Israel in the 1980s.

One of the most serious breaches of the truce occurred at midday, although it does not seem to have endangered the pact. In a confusing episode, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militiamen engaged in a firefight, as confirmed by both sides. The Israeli army claims that three explosive devices were detonated near its soldiers and several were lightly wounded. Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, described it as a “tactical friction” resulting from a “clear violation of the truce” by the Israeli army. “We are committed to the truce as long as Israel remains committed to it,” Abu Obeida added.

Israel defends that its troops were located in positions permitted by the pact, which does not require their withdrawal. Thousands of soldiers remain inside the Gaza Strip and can make certain agreed movements. The army is also preventing the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in the south of the Strip from taking advantage of the absence of bombing to return to the north, to see the state of their homes or to look for corpses in the rubble. Aerial bombardments have wiped out entire neighborhoods there.

Another incident took place in the Gazan capital on Monday morning. A tank opened fire without causing any injuries. According to the Israeli army, it was a warning shot when someone approached their military.

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