Mediators scrambling for Israel-Hamas truce extension, as hostages-for-prisoners swaps get harder

Mediators were scrambling to extend an Israel-Hamas truce set to expire after daybreak Friday, as the two sides appeared to be struggling to agree on how to continue the daily exchanges of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel that have sustained the week-long pause in fighting.

Virtually all of those freed so far have been women and children, but with few such hostages remaining in Gaza reaching a deal on an extension could prove more challenging. Hamas, a militant group that has ruled Gaza for 16 years, is expected to set a higher price for the remaining hostages, especially Israeli soldiers. About 140 hostages remain in Gaza, with more than 100 having been freed as part of the truce.

Qatar and Egypt, which have played a key role as mediators, are seeking to prolong a truce by another two days. Israel has pledged to resume its blistering offensive, aimed at crushing Hamas, if the militants don't offer what it views as a satisfactory list of captives to be freed in return for an extension.

Israel has vowed to resume the war once hostage releases end, but faces growing pressure from its main ally, the United States to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials on his third visit to the region since the start of the war two months ago, said he hoped the cease-fire could be extended and more hostages could be released.

Blinken also said that if Israel resumes the war and moves against southern Gaza to pursue Hamas, it must do so in "compliance with international humanitarian law" and must have "a clear plan in place" to protect civilians. He said Israeli leaders understood that "the...

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