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GAZA STRIP: Israel said Monday it was open to extending a truce with Hamas if the Palestinian group continues to release hostages, as international pressure mounted for a longer pause in the Gaza fighting.

If no extension is agreed the temporary truce is due to expire at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) on Tuesday, threatening a return to intense fighting in a war that has already left many thousands dead.

US President Joe Biden, top EU envoy Josep Borrell and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have all joined a global chorus urging the parties to extend their temporary break in fighting.

Israel had put Hamas “on notice” that an “option for an extension” of the truce was open in order to bring home 50 more Israeli hostages in the coming days, government spokesman Eylon Levy told reporters, potentially implying a five-day extension.

As part of the truce deal, Hamas has so far released 39 Israeli hostages, including a four-year-old girl orphaned by the group’s October 7 attack, with more expected later Monday.

Israel has freed 117 Palestinian prisoners in exchange under the terms of the agreement. A further 19 foreign nationals have also been released from Gaza under separate arrangements.

Tearful reunions of families and hostages, released in exchange for dozens of Palestinian prisoners, have brought the first relief from images of civilian death and suffering in the seven-week war, with hopes high for an extension.

“That’s our goal, to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza,” Biden said Sunday, calling for operations to remove Hamas to be paused for “as long as prisoners keep coming out”.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed this call as the truce entered its final 24 hours, saying: “The pause should be extended to make it sustainable and long lasting while working for a political solution.” “Nothing can justify the indiscriminate brutality Hamas unleashed against civilians,” he said. “But one horror cannot justify another horror.”

NATO chief Stoltenberg also weighed in, ahead of a meeting of allied foreign ministers in Brussels.

“I call for an extension of the pause. This would allow for much needed relief to the people of Gaza and the release of more hostages,” he told journalists.

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