Assessments in Israel on Thursday have determined that Friday likely will be the final release of Israeli hostages by Hamas before the renewal of fighting in Gaza. Ten more Israelis are expected to return in each of the final groups.
On Thursday, Hamas is expected to release eight women and children, two Israelis with Russian citizenship and three bodies. Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing to extend the cease-fire, making it likely to continue to Friday. However, the talks are anticipated to be difficult and tense, with indications that fighting may resume as early as Saturday.
The United States, Qatar and Egypt are pushing to extend the cease-fire but understand that, with the release of about 100 captives included in the agreed-upon category, a further extension might be challenging without agreement on a new deal. Therefore, the Americans will want to hear from Israel about its military plan in the southern Gaza Strip and how it intends to minimize civilian casualties in the area.
The U.S. does not want to see mass resident evacuations from southern Gaza, fearing a humanitarian crisis. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who arrived in Israel overnight Thursday, will discuss the matter with the war cabinet. The Americans are expected to pressure Israel not to carry out airstrikes in Gaza’s south. Blinken wants to demonstrate engagement in the ongoing situation and is also planning to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Americans aim to maintain relations with both sides after the war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Blinken on Thursday. "I want to express our appreciation for your support since the beginning – for the president, for you personally, and for your delegation – in the war to neutralize Hamas and ensure the release of Israeli captives. And, of course, I want to talk to you about the next stage to come." According to the Prime Minister's Office, an extended meeting later took place attended by members of the war cabinet.
Blinken also met with President Isaac Herzog. "Over the last week, we've witnessed positive developments with hostages coming home and increased humanitarian aid reaching innocent civilians in Gaza who urgently need support. This process yields results. It's crucial, and we hope it will continue,” Blinken said. Herzog, for his part, talked about the terror shooting attack in Jerusalem that took place on Thursday morning and called on Blinken to continue working for the release of the hostages.
The continuation of the cease-fire was agreed to only on Thursday morning, after Israel had threatened overnight that the pause would end at 7:00 a.m. During the night, Hamas provided a list of Israeli hostages set to be released that Israel did not accept. However, at 6:42 a.m., Hamas delivered an altered list of 8 Israeli women and children instead of 10, and also said they would hand over 3 Israeli bodies, to which Israel agreed.
Mark Regev, an adviser to Netanyahu, said in an interview with CNN Thursday that Israel would agree to extend the cease-fire each day Hamas commits to releasing 10 Israeli captives alive.
When asked if fighting would resume in the next 24 hours, he replied: "If Hamas continues to release hostages, 10 a day, we will extend the pause."
Regev emphasized that the temporary cessation of fighting is solely a humanitarian pause and that Israel is determined to dismantle Hamas's war machine and its control over Gaza: "We are not playing games with the lives of our people. Hamas knows what the parameters of the deal are."
Also on Thursday, Egypt announced that Egyptian and Qatari mediators are attempting to promote an additional two-day extension of the cease-fire, during which the release of Israeli captives and Palestinian prisoners in Israel will continue, including supplying humanitarian aid to the Strip.