DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip—Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners Friday, hours after the Hamas terrorist group freed additional Israeli hostages under a last-minute agreement to extend their cease-fire by another day in Gaza. But any further extension renewal, now in its eighth day, could prove more challenging as Hamas is expected to set a higher price for many of the remaining hostages.
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.
Israel freed 30 Palestinian prisoners later in the evening under the deal.
During the truce, at least 10 Israelis a day, along with other nationals, have been freed by Hamas in return for Israel’s release of at least 30 Palestinian prisoners. Asked why Hamas on Thursday released fewer than 10 hostages, as outlined in the cease-fire agreement, the military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, noted that 12 Israeli citizens had been released the day before, implying that the overall total had met Israeli demands.
“We insist on getting the maximum possible,” Mr. Hagari said. “It’s been that way every day and also today.”
Israel has vowed to resume the fighting—with the goal of dismantling Hamas—once the cease-fire ends.
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 terrorists 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.
Mr. Blinken also said that if Israel resumes the war and moves against southern Gaza to pursue Hamas, it must do so in “compliance with international humanitarian law” and must have “a clear plan in place” to protect civilians. He said Israeli leaders understood that ”the massive levels of civilian life and displacement scale we saw in the north not be repeated in the south.”
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.
Thursday morning, Palestinian terrorists opened fire on people waiting for buses along a main highway entering Jerusalem, killing at least three people and wounding several others, according to Israeli police.
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 West Bank and other Israeli “crimes.”
The attack did not appear to threaten the truce in Gaza. But escalating violence—including Israeli raids—in the West Bank and east Jerusalem could blow back to wreck the quiet in Gaza, even though these areas are not covered under the cease-fire.