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Six more hostages released by Hamas as talks over extending the Gaza truce continue

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Israel's President Isaac Herzog hold a meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday following the announcement of an extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas just before it was due to expire.
Saul Loeb
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Israel's President Isaac Herzog hold a meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday following the announcement of an extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas just before it was due to expire.

Updated November 30, 2023 at 4:24 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — As the seventh day of the temporary Israel-Hamas truce came to a close, Israel indicated it would support another extension in order to allow for the release of more hostages, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel to take "more effective steps" to protect civilian life.

Six more hostages — five women and one man — were released by Hamas late Thursday and some 30 Palestinian prisoners and detainees were expected to be freed from Israeli prisons, marking the seventh consecutive day of hostage-prisoner exchanges with the militant group Hamas.

In total, about 240 hostages were captured by Hamas fighters in the Oct. 7 attack launched from Gaza on Israeli border communities that killed about 1,200 people, Israel says.

About 140 hostages are thought to remain in captivity.

If an agreement to extend the truce could not be reached, Israeli troops stand by to resume fighting, military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in remarks to the media. "We are prepared for an attack at any hour," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Hamas released two hostages outside of the framework of the swap. Both are women and one has dual French-Israeli citizenship.

Blinken says Israel must take 'more effective steps' to avoid civilian deaths

The latest discussions to prolong the truce that has temporarily halted Israel's bombardment of Gaza coincided with Blinken's arrival in Israel to push for a more permanent resolution to the conflict.

After a meeting with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials, Blinken told reporters that Israel must put in place plans to minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians before resuming military operations in Gaza. "That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians," he said.

"Intent is obviously where you start, and it's vitally important," Blinken said. "But results, of course, are fundamentally what matters."

Blinken urged Israel to indicate safe areas in central and southern Gaza, to avoid further displacement of civilians, and to avoid damage to life-critical infrastructure like hospitals, power stations and water facilities.

Civilians who evacuated to southern Gaza must also be given an opportunity to return home once it is safe to do so, Blinken said. "There must be no enduring internal displacement," he said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israeli forces will resume operations to "crush Hamas" once the truce expires.

Earlier Thursday, Blinken met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who thanked the U.S. "for the immense work it is devoting to the release of the hostages." He also mentioned by name the Bibas family.

"Their whereabouts are unknown to us and we are demanding their immediate release," Herzog said.

Blinken said that "from day one" the U.S. has focused on trying to secure the hostages' release. He called the swaps of captives this week "a very positive development."

"It's also enabled an increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately," Blinken said. "So this process is producing results. It's important, and we hope that it can continue."

Bus stop shooting kills 3 in Jerusalem

Blinken's arrival came amid an early morning shooting at a bus stop on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where two gunmen opened fire, killing three Israelis.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli security forces did not immediately comment on the Hamas claim. The shooting is the first Palestinian attack on civilians since the Israel-Hamas war began last month.

Two American citizens were wounded in the attack, Blinken said. He said the killings emphasize "the threat from terrorism that Israel and Israelis face every single day. And like you, my heart goes out to the victims of this attack."

People visit the scene after a shooting attack near a bus stop on Thursday in Jerusalem. The shooting left three dead and 16 wounded, according to authorities.
Amir Levy / Getty Images
Getty Images
People visit the scene after a shooting attack near a bus stop on Thursday in Jerusalem. The shooting left three dead and 16 wounded, according to authorities.

Surveillance video from the attack shows two gunmen exiting a car and firing on a group of civilians waiting at a bus stop. A police statement, quoting medical sources, said three civilians were killed and 16 injured, by two assailants of East Jerusalem armed with an M-16 rifle and a handgun. It said the two "were neutralized on the scene shortly after the attack by two off-duty (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers and another civilian who fired at them."

In a statement afterward, the Hamas military wing claimed "full responsibility" for the attack and said it was a response to the deaths of Palestinian women and children in Gaza and the West Bank since Oct. 7.

In a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter), Netanyahu offered condolences to the families of the victims and said his government would expand its efforts to distribute weapons to Israeli civilians.

Also on X, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said the bus stop attack "is further proof of our obligation to continue to fight with strength and determination against murderous terrorism, which threatens our citizens. In Jerusalem, Gaza, in Judea and Samaria, and everywhere," he wrote. Judea and Samaria are biblical names often used in Israel to refer to the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed an 8-year-old and a 15-year-old during a raid on the Palestinian city of Jenin. Israel's military says it killed two militants in the raid.

U.N. chief says that Gaza aid is 'inadequate'

In Gaza, where the week-long pause has temporarily halted Israel's relentless air-and-ground campaign against Hamas, at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, according to Gaza's health ministry.

While the cease-fire has allowed desperately needed aid to reach many Gazans, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday that the delivery of aid "remains completely inadequate to meet the huge needs of more than two million people."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest update that aid convoys, which had been unable to reach areas north of an informal line bisecting Gaza, continued through Wednesday.

It said that the Palestine Red Crescent Society and UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency that oversees the Palestinian territories, "delivered food and non-food items, medical supplies, and fuel to shelters hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs), as well as to warehouses and hospitals. The latter included two hospitals in Gaza city, Al Ahli and As Sahaba, which received a total 10,500 liters (nearly 2,800 gallons) of fuel, enough to operate generators for about seven days."

Aid distribution in areas of south Gaza, where the majority of internal displaced people are staying, include fuel for hospitals, water and sanitation facilities, as well as cooking gas that "has been entering daily from Egypt since the start of the pause," OCHA said.

NPR's Scott Neuman and Daniel Estrin reported from Tel Aviv. NPR's Becky Sullivan reported from Washington, D.C. contributed to this story

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.