Hamas handed over a third group of hostages to Red Cross staff on Sunday as part of a four-day ceasefire agreement in the Gaza war, raising hopes of an extended truce with the release of further hostages in the coming days.
With the release of 14 Israelis and three Thai citizens on Sunday, a total of 58 hostages have now been released by the extremist organisation Hamas since Friday.
Israeli officials believe nearly 180 hostages are still in the hands of extremists in Gaza after being kidnapped in the October 7 terrorist attacks.
On Sunday, in return for the 17 freed prisoners, another 39 Palestinian prisoners were being released from Israeli prisons, as was the case the day before.
The exchange is part of the Qatar-brokered agreement on a four-day ceasefire, lasting until at least Tuesday morning.
Officials on both sides of the conflict, both in the U.S. and Qatar, have expressed hopes for an extended truce beyond the originally agreed four days.
Following the release of a third group of hostages, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that the agreement provides for the possibility of an extension in return for the release of 10 more hostages per day.
According to Qatar, extending an additional six days would be possible.
A Hamas statement late on Sunday said it also wished to extend the four-day ceasefire in the hope of securing the release of further Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons in exchange for hostages.
While Netanyahu said an extension “would be welcome,” he also said the fighting would resume after the ceasefire, adding that “at the end of the outline, we will go to realising our goals with full force.”
Among the hostages released by Hamas on Sunday evening was an 84-year-old woman who was brought to an Israeli hospital in a life-threatening condition, several Israeli media reported, citing the hospital in Beersheba in southern Israel.
The third day of the truce agreement has allowed some desperately needed aid to flow into the densely populated Gaza Strip. The north of the territory saw the largest delivery of its kind since the beginning of the war between Islamist Hamas and Israel.
The aid group said the Palestinian Red Crescent successfully drove the trucks there on Saturday night.
The group said that people are to be given water, medicine and medical equipment at four distribution points in the north.