Jerusalem, Israel | Xinhua | The Israeli government confirmed late Wednesday night that the sixth batch of hostages released from the Gaza Strip by Hamas has returned to Israel.
The 16 hostages, including 12 Israelis — some holding dual citizenship — and four Thai nationals, will undergo an initial medical examination before being escorted by security forces to hospitals to reunite with their families, according to statements issued by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The four-day humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, scheduled to expire on Tuesday morning, was extended by two days, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said on Monday. Israel did not comment on the extension, but said early Tuesday that it approved the release of 50 more female Palestinian prisoners if “more Israeli hostages are released.”
More than 200 hostages were taken to Gaza by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel, which retaliated by launching deadly airstrikes and a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Israel was widely reported to have insisted that all women and children be released under the framework of the current ceasefire deal, which provided for 50 Israelis to be freed in the first four days of the truce, and the release of 10 Israeli captives for an extra day’s pause.
Amid talks to extend the ceasefire in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Wednesday that his country will resume the military campaign to eradicate Hamas.
“There is no situation in which we do not go back to fighting until the end. This is my policy,” Netanyahu said in a video statement Wednesday, adding that the entire security cabinet and government, the soldiers, and the Israeli people are all “behind it.”
“From the start of the war, I set three goals: eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again go back to being a threat to the State of Israel. These three goals still stand,” he stressed.
Also on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held a “special situational assessment” with the heads of the military, Mossad and Shin Bet on the efforts to return Israelis held hostage by Palestinian militants in Gaza, his office said.
“We are making every effort to return the hostages and to fully complete the current process for returning all the abducted woman and children in Gaza,” Gallant said in a statement, stressing that Israeli forces in the air, sea and ground “are ready for an immediate renewal of the fighting.”
Meanwhile, IDF’s Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi approved battle plans after the ceasefire during a meeting at Southern Command headquarters in Beer Sheba, an army statement said.
“We know what needs to be done, and are ready for the next stage,” Halevi was quoted in the statement as saying.