(MENAFN- Jordan Times) OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - A temporary truce in fighting between Israel and Palestinian resistance group Hamas has been extended by two days, mediator Qatar said on Monday hours before the initial agreement was set to expire.
The extension opens the way to further releases of hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, and for more aid to flow into war-devastated Palestinian territory.
The initial four-day agreement was scheduled to end at 7:00am (05:00 GMT) on Tuesday but has been extended by another 48 hours.
"The State of Qatar announces that, as part of the ongoing mediation, an agreement has been reached to extend the humanitarian truce for an additional two days in the Gaza Strip," Qatari Foreign ministry Spokesman Majed Al Ansari said on X, formerly Twitter.
Hamas confirmed agreement on the two-day extension and associated hostage and prisoner releases.
"Hamas announced that an agreement has been reached with the brothers in Qatar and Egypt for an extension of the temporary humanitarian pause for an additional two days, with the same conditions as the previous truce," the Palestinian Islamist movement said in a statement.
In the first three days of the agreement, Hamas has freed 39 Israeli hostages and Israel has released 117 Palestinian prisoners under the terms of the four-day truce.
A further 19 foreign nationals, mostly Thais, have been released from Gaza under separate arrangements.
Gaza fighters took about 240 captives from southern Israel in an unprecedented October 7 surprise attack. Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and unleashed an aerial bombing campaign and ground invasion of Gaza that the Hamas government says has killed nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians.
Another 13 hostages were freed on Sunday under the terms of the truce, in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners.
The group separately freed three Thai nationals and a Russian-Israeli citizen.
Hamas is expected to free a total of 50 hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israel over the course of the four-day pause brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.
Truce extension hopes
Calls grew for the truce between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip to be extended. Israel faces pressure from the families of hostages, as well as allies, to extend the truce to secure more releases.
US President Joe Biden, top EU Envoy Josep Borrell and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have all joined a global chorus urging the parties to extend their temporary break in fighting.
Tearful reunions of families and hostages, released in exchange for dozens of Palestinian prisoners, have brought the first relief from images of civilian death and suffering in the seven-week war, with hopes high for an extension.
“That's our goal, to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza,” Biden said Sunday, calling for operations to remove Hamas to be paused for“as long as prisoners keep coming out”.
The EU's Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell echoed this call as the truce entered its final 24 hours, saying:“The pause should be extended to make it sustainable and long lasting while working for a political solution.”
NATO chief Stoltenberg also weighed in, ahead of a meeting of allied foreign ministers in Brussels.
“I call for an extension of the pause. This would allow for much needed relief to the people of Gaza and the release of more hostages,” he told journalists.
In another sign of mounting international concern, UN rights experts called on Monday for independent investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity..
Morris Tidball-Binz, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteur on torture, issued a joint statement stressing the need for“prompt, transparent and independent investigations”.
Iran on Monday called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza to stop Israel's“crimes” in the territory as the truce between Israel and Hamas entered its final day.
“As the Islamic Republic of Iran, we want and expect... that the crimes of the Zionist regime against the Palestinian people will be stopped completely,” said Nasser Kanani, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman.
Kanani told reporters during his weekly press conference that Iran is“following” the extension of the truce“with the regional party active in this field, the state of Qatar”.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was on a visit to the Qatari capital Doha on Thursday.
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