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Israel and Hamas look open to extending truce on its final day, with one more hostage swap planned

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel and Hamas appeared open to extending a cease-fire in Gaza that has halted their deadliest and most destructive war but is set to expire after Monday, with a fourth exchange of militant-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel planned for later in the day.

Israel has said it would extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. Hamas has also said it hopes to extend the four-day truce, which came into effect Friday after several weeks of indirect negotiations mediated by the United States, Qatar and Egypt.

But Israel also says it remains committed to crushing Hamas’ military capabilities and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza after its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. That would likely mean expanding a ground offensive from devastated northern Gaza to the south, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have crammed into United Nations shelters, and where dire conditions persist despite the increased delivery of aid under the truce.

Two Egyptian officials said talks are aimed at extending the cease-fire for another four days, with one saying that both sides have agreed in principle. But that official added that violence in the occupied West Bank is complicating matters, with Hamas demanding an end to Israeli military raids. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and scores killed in clashes with Israeli forces since the war began.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The release of dozens of people — mostly women and children who were among the roughly 240 captured by Hamas and other militants during the Oct. 7 raid that ignited the war — has rallied Israelis behind calls to return the rest of them.

Sixty-two hostages have been released — almost all during the current truce. Previously, one was freed by Israeli forces and two were found dead inside Gaza.

“We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” two relatives of Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl and dual Israeli-American citizen who was released Sunday, said in a statement.

Hamas and other militants could still be holding up to 175 hostages — enough to potentially extend the cease-fire for two and a half weeks — but those include a number of soldiers, and the militants are likely to make much greater demands for their release.

A THIRD RELEASE OF HOSTAGES AND PRISONERS

On Sunday, Hamas freed 17 hostages, including 14 Israelis, and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners — the third such exchange under the truce.

Most hostages appeared to be physically well, but 84-year-old Elma Avraham was airlifted to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in life-threatening condition because of inadequate care, the hospital said.

Among those released Sunday were three Thai nationals. With a total of 17 freed, Thailand said it was pursuing the safe return of the 15 remaining Thai hostages, who were the largest group of non-Israelis held by the militants. Many Thais work in Israel, largely as farm laborers.

The Palestinian prisoners released were mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces, or of less-serious offenses. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.

The last planned exchange is expected on Monday.

The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye, but details of their captivity have started to trickle out.

Merav Raviv, whose three relatives were released on Friday, said they had been fed irregularly and lost weight. One reported eating mainly bread and rice and sleeping on a makeshift bed of chairs pushed together. Hostages sometimes had to wait for hours to use the bathroom, she said.

RESPITE IN GAZA

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, 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. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.

The pause has given some respite to Gaza’s 2.3 million people after weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment that has driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled entire neighborhoods.

But many say it’s not nearly enough.

Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who fled northern Gaza to stay with a host family in the southern city of Rafah, said she had only managed to get one canned meal from a U.N. distribution center since the cease-fire began. She helps other families in the neighborhood cook over firewood in return for food for her sons, ages 4 to 10.

She said the crowds have overwhelmed local markets and gas stations as people try to stock up on basics. “People were desperate and went out to buy whenever they could,” she said. “They are extremely worried that the war will return.”

Iyad Ghafary, a vendor in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, said many families were still unable to retrieve the dead from under the rubble left by Israeli airstrikes, and that local authorities weren’t equipped to deal with the level of destruction.

Palestinians who remained in northern Gaza, which was home to more than a million people before the war, have emerged to scenes of widespread devastation, with building after building either demolished or heavily damaged. The Israeli military has barred Palestinians who fled south from returning.

The U.N. says the truce made it possible to scale up the delivery of food, water and medicine to the largest volume since the start of the war. But the 160 to 200 trucks a day is still less than half what Gaza was importing before the fighting, even as humanitarian needs have soared.

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Magdy reported from Cairo.

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Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

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