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Islamic Jihad says it frees some hostages as truce talks proceed

THE Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement said that it had handed over several civilian hostages as part of an exchange deal with Israel, on the final day of a two-day extension of a truce in the Gaza war.

The release was overshadowed by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas, the largest militant group in Gaza, that a family of Israeli hostages, including the youngest hostage, baby Kfir Bibas, had been killed during earlier Israeli bombardment.

Israeli officials said they were checking the Hamas report about the Bibas family, a very sensitive issue in Israel where the family is among the most high-profile hostages yet to be freed.

Relatives of the Bibas family said they had been informed of the Hamas report. “We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials,” a statement from the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said.

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Hamas issued its claim about the three deaths ahead of the expected final release of several of its own hostages scheduled under the truce. The group had been expected to free at least 10 hostages on Wednesday under the terms of the truce agreement.

The hostage release by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, coincided with talks over a possible extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas, which currently is scheduled to expire early on Thursday.

An Israeli official said it would be impossible to extend the ceasefire without a commitment to release all women and children among the hostages. The official said Israel believed that militants were still holding enough women and children to prolong the truce by 2-3 days.

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Egyptian security sources also said negotiators believed a two-day extension was possible.

A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange for three Palestinian detainees each that had previously applied to the women and children.

LISTS OF NAMES

Families of Israeli hostages were informed on Wednesday of the names of those due to be released later in the day, Israel’s public broadcaster Kan reported, the final group to be freed under the truce unless negotiators succeed in extending it.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers published a list of 15 women and 15 teenagers to be released from Israeli jails in return. For the first time since the truce began, it included Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as residents of occupied territory.

So far Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children from among 240 hostages, under the deal that secured the war’s first truce. Twenty-one foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals. In return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers.

The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel says it would be willing to prolong it for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day. But with fewer women and children held, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time.

The hostages were among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which they killed 1,200 people.

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By NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI, MOHAMMED SALEM and EMILY ROSE

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