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Mediators Look to Extend Truc 11/29 06:08

   International mediators appeared to make progress Wednesday on extending the 
truce in Gaza, encouraging the territory's Hamas rulers to keep freeing 
hostages in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners and further respite 
from Israel's air and ground offensive. It will otherwise expire within a day.

   RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- International mediators appeared to make progress 
Wednesday on extending the truce in Gaza, encouraging the territory's Hamas 
rulers to keep freeing hostages in return for the release of Palestinian 
prisoners and further respite from Israel's air and ground offensive. It will 
otherwise expire within a day.

   Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and 
says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives. But its other 
major goal -- the annihilation of the armed group that has ruled Gaza for 16 
years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war -- 
seems less and less likely.

   Weeks of heavy aerial bombardment and a ground invasion have demolished vast 
swaths of northern Gaza and killed thousands of Palestinians. But it seems to 
have had little effect on Hamas' rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct 
complex negotiations, enforce the cease-fire among other armed groups, and 
orchestrate the smooth release of hostages.

   Yehya Sinwar and other Hamas leaders have likely relocated to the south, 
along with hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who have packed into 
overflowing shelters.

   An Israeli ground invasion of the south could eventually ferret out Hamas' 
leaders and demolish the rest of its militant infrastructure, including 
kilometers (miles) of tunnels, but at a cost in Palestinian lives and 
destruction that the United States, Israel's main ally, seems unwilling to bear.

   The Biden administration has told Israel that if it resumes the offensive it 
must operate with far greater precision, especially in the south. That approach 
is unlikely to bring Hamas to its knees any time soon, and international 
pressure for a lasting cease-fire is already mounting.

   "How far both sides will be prepared to go in trading hostages and prisoners 
for the pause is about to be tested, but the pressures and incentives for both 
to stick with it are at the moment stronger than the incentives to go back to 
war," Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote on X.


   Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt's state information services, said negotiations 
to extend the cease-fire and release more hostages have made progress and that 
it is "highly likely" another extension will be announced Wednesday.

   Egypt, along with Qatar and the U.S., played a key role in mediating the 
original cease-fire and a two-day extension announced Monday. U.S. Secretary of 
State Antony Blinken, who is expected to push for a longer truce, was set to 
visit the region this week.

   A joint statement from foreign ministers of the G7 group of wealthy 
democracies, which includes close allies of Israel, called for the "further 
extension of the pause" and for "protecting civilians and compliance with 
international law."

   The war began with Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel, in which it 
killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants dragged some 240 
people back into Gaza, including babies, children, women, soldiers, older 
adults and Thai farm laborers.

   Israel responded with a devastating air campaign across Gaza and a ground 
invasion in the north. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, 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.

   The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated 
the count since Nov. 11 due to the breakdown of services in the north. The 
ministry says thousands more people are missing and feared dead under the 

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


   The plight of the captives, and the lingering shock from the Oct. 7 attack, 
has galvanized Israeli support for the war. But Prime Minister Benjamin 
Netanyahu is also under intense pressure to bring the hostages home, and could 
find it difficult to resume the offensive if there's a prospect for more 

   Hamas is still believed to be holding around 150 hostages --- enough to 
extend the cease-fire for another two weeks under the current arrangement of 
releasing 10 each day. But an unknown number of those are soldiers, and Hamas 
is expected to drive a harder bargain for them.

   After being extended by two days, the cease-fire is due to end at some point 
after a final exchange later on Wednesday.

   A total of 60 Israelis have been freed as part of the truce, most of whom 
appear physically well but shaken. Another 21 hostages --- 19 Thais, one 
Filipino and one Russian-Israeli --- have been released in separate 
negotiations since the truce began. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four 
hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.

   The latest swap brought to 180 the number of Palestinians freed from Israeli 
prisons. Most have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs 
during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by 
Israeli military courts of attempting deadly attacks.

   Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having 
resisted Israel's decadeslong military occupation of lands they want for a 
future state.


   Ordinary Palestinians fear the resumption of the war, which has brought 
unprecedented levels of death, destruction and displacement across Gaza.

   "We are fed up," said Omar al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa 
Martyrs hospital in central Gaza. "We want this war to stop."

   Israel's bombardment and ground offensive have displaced more than 1.8 
million people inside Gaza, nearly 80% of the territory's population, and most 
have sought refuge in the south, according to the U.N.

   The cease-fire has allowed more aid to be delivered to Gaza, up to 200 
trucks a day, but that is less than half what the enclave was importing before 
the fighting, even as needs have soared. People stocking up on fuel and other 
basics have had to wait for hours in long lines that form before dawn.

   As U.N.-run shelters have overflowed, many have been forced to sleep on the 
streets outside in cold, rainy weather. The head of the World Health 
Organization warned Wednesday that "more people could die from disease than 

   Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said some 111,000 people have respiratory 
infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under 5 years old. 
He, too, urged a sustained truce, calling it "a matter of life and death."

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