Israeli forces are continuing to attack Hamas terror targets in the Gaza Strip ahead of a pause in fighting as part of a hostage release deal currently scheduled for Friday.
An Israeli official told AFP early on Thursday that there would be no halt to combat operations in Gaza or release of hostages before Friday, after Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi announced shortly after midnight that the agreement would take effect a day later than expected.
“The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday,” read a statement from Hanegbi’s office, while noting that “the contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly.”
A senior U.S. official told CNN that the decision to delay the deal was made by Israel together with Qatar and Egypt and in consultation with the United States. The aim of the delay is reportedly to lessen the chances of something going wrong and to finalize the logistical details.
“The deal was agreed and remains agreed. The parties are working out final logistical details, particularly for the first day of implementation,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement Wednesday night.
“It is our view that nothing should be left to chance as the hostages begin coming home. Our primary objective is to ensure that they are brought home safely. That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning,” she said.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday morning that talks with Egypt on implementing the deal were “continuing and progressing positively” and that the start of the ceasefire will be announced “within the next few hours,” the Qatar News Agency reported.
However, the BBC reported on Thursday afternoon, citing an Israeli government source, that Hamas has made “additional demands” for the hostage deal.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Hamas is demanding that the hostages being freed be handed to the Egyptians instead of the Red Cross as Jerusalem had wanted before being transferred to Israel. Hamas has also not agreed to the Israeli demand that the Red Cross be allowed to visit captives remaining in Gaza.
An Egyptian official told the Journal that Cairo has received a list of the first 10 hostages to be released.
Under the agreement, Hamas is to release 50 women and children over a four-day ceasefire, and Israel is to release 150 Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons. More hostages and terrorists could be released as part of the deal.
IAF hits 300 Hamas terror targets in Gaza Strip
The Israeli Air Force attacked 300 Hamas terror targets in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, the IDF said on Thursday morning.
These include operational headquarters, underground combat tunnels, IED warehouses, IED production sites and anti-tank launch sites.
Ground forces continued to strike terror targets in the Jabalia area in northern Gaza. In addition to eliminating a number of terror cells in northern Gaza, IDF soldiers located a tunnel shaft inside a mosque.
In Beit Hanun, Israel forces struck a tunnel shaft in an agricultural area and located weapons and a tunnel shaft in a civilian residence in the area.
Sirens sounded in Ashkelon and Kerem Shalom in southern Israel on Thursday morning, as well as in communities close to the Lebanese border.
More than 10,000 rockets, missiles, mortars and drones have been fired at Israel since Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre.
IDF chief: ‘We are not ending the war‘
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said on Thursday said that the war against Hamas will continue “until we are victorious.”
“We are trying to connect the goals of the war, so that the pressure from the ground operation brings about the ability to also achieve the goal of this war, to create the conditions for the release of the abducted hostages,” Halevi told a group of 36th Division brigade commanders in the Gaza Strip.
“We are not ending the war. We will continue until we are victorious … I’m very proud of you, you are doing an outstanding job.”
U.S. warship downs Houthi attack drones
The USS Thomas Hudner on Thursday morning shot down multiple attack drones over the Red Sea launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen, according to U.S. Central Command. The drones were reportedly headed toward Israel.
The incident came hours after a cruise missile fired by the Iranian terror proxy was intercepted by the Israeli Air Force near Eilat.