Israel, Hamas hold fire for fifth day, more hostages set to be released

Turkey’s Erdogan says Israel must be held accountable for war crimes in Gaza

GAZA/JERUSALEM  -  Israeli forces and Hamas fighters largely held their fire on Tuesday following the extension of a four-day ceasefire in Gaza by at least two ex­tra days to allow for the release of more hostages.

With both sides expressing hope of further extensions, mediator Qa­tar hosted the spy chiefs from Isra­el’s Mossad and the United States’ CIA at a meeting to “build on prog­ress”, a source briefed on the visits told media outlet.

A US official confirmed that CIA Di­rector William Burns was in Doha “for meetings on the Israel-Hamas conflict including discussions on hostages”, without elaborating.

The truce, which began on Fri­day, has brought the first respite to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in sev­en weeks, during which Israel had bombed swathes of the territory into a desolate moonscape.

Although conditions on the ground in Gaza remained largely peaceful on Tuesday, Israel’s military said three explosive devices had been detonat­ed near its troops in two different locations in the northern Gaza Strip, “violating the framework of the op­erational pause”.

In one of the locations, gunmen opened fire on the soldiers who re­turned fire and that “a number of soldiers were lightly injured”. No further details were immediate­ly available. Earlier, a single column of black smoke could be seen ris­ing above the obliterated wasteland of the northern Gaza war zone from across the fence in Israel, but for a fifth day there was no sign of jets in the sky or rumble of explosions.

Both sides also reported some Israeli tank fire in the Sheikh Rad­wan district of Gaza City in the morning, but there were no re­ports of casualties. Israel said its troops had been approached and fired a warning shot. Lieu­tenant-General Herzi Halevi, chief of Israel’s armed forces, told a press briefing that the military re­mained on alert in Gaza and was prepared to continue fighting.

Since the truce started on Friday, Hamas has released 69 hostages - 50 Israeli women and children, includ­ing some toddlers, as well as 19 for­eigners, mainly Thai farmworkers.

In return, Israel has released 150 security detainees from its jails, all women and teenagers.

Israel has said the truce could be prolonged as long as Hamas con­tinues to release at least 10 Israe­li hostages per day. But with fewer women and children left in captiv­ity, keeping the guns quiet beyond Wednesday could require negotiat­ing to free at least some Israeli men for the first time.

“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 that we have that we can swap,” Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya told Al Jazeera late on Mon­day. Qatar’s foreign ministry said it was now trying to secure a further extension based on Hamas releasing more hostages.

Since then, Gaza health authori­ties deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 peo­ple have been confirmed killed in Is­rael’s bombardment, around 40% of them children, with many more dead feared to be lost under rubble.