A senior Hamas official said on Wednesday the militant movement was ready to release all the Israeli soldiers it is holding captive in exchange for all Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, amid negotiations to extend a truce over Gaza.
Hamas official and former Gaza health minister Bassem Naim said the group was going through “hard negotiations” to extend a cessation of hostilities that was scheduled to end early Thursday after a six-day pause in fighting.
“We are ready to release all soldiers in exchange for all our prisoners,” Naim told a press conference in Cape Town, during a visit to South Africa.
Gaza militants took about 240 captives from southern Israel in an unprecedented October 7 attack that Israeli officials say killed around 1,200 people, most of them civilians.
In response, Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and has unleashed an air and ground campaign that the Hamas government says has killed nearly 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.
Sixty Israeli hostages and 180 Palestinian prisoners have been released under the truce agreement to the joy of their relatives.
Among the hostages still held by Hamas are soldiers who are excluded from the exchange agreement, and the militant movement is likely to use then as an important bargaining chip.
In 2011, more than 1,000 Palestinians were exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been taken prisoner by Hamas five years earlier.
Activist groups say there are more than 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, many of them far more prominent than the youngsters and women freed so far.
Hamas had already in October demanded Israel release all Palestinian prisoners but at the time offered to let go all hostages in exchange.
The new proposal came as efforts intensified to extend the halt in hostilities, with a source close to the militant group saying Hamas was willing to extend the truce by another four days and release more Israeli hostages.
“We are trying with the mediators to negotiate a permanent ceasefire,” Naim said.
Earlier Israel’s army said it was investigating a report by Hamas’s armed wing that a 10-month-old baby hostage, his four-year-old brother and their mother had all been killed in Gaza.
“We have confirmed two to three weeks ago that 60 Israelis have been killed under Israeli bombardment and are still under the rubble,” Naim said.
“The woman and her two children are among them, I can confirm that.”