JERUSALEM — Hamas announced that it had freed an additional two hostages on humanitarian grounds on Monday.
Israeli media, citing an anonymous official, confirmed the release, but there was no formal announcement from the Israeli side.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the release.
Hamas released an American woman and her teenage daughter last week in what it said was a humanitarian gesture mediated by Qatar.
Israel is widely expected to launch a ground offensive in Gaza, vowing to destroy Hamas after its brutal Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israeli communities. That is raising fears of the war spreading beyond Gaza and Israel, as Iranian-backed fighters in the region are warning of possible escalation, including targeting U.S. forces deployed in the Mideast.
The U.S. has told Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and other groups not to join the fight. Israel has frequently traded fire with Hezbollah, and Israeli warplanes have struck targets in the occupied West Bank, Syria and Lebanon in recent days.
The U.S. advised Israeli officials that delaying a ground offensive would give Washington more time to work with regional mediators on securing the release of more hostages taken by Hamas during its deadly incursion, according to a U.S. official.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops near Gaza to keep preparing for an offensive “because it will come.” He said it will be a combined offensive from air, land and sea but did not give a timeframe.
Tanks and troops have been massed at the Gaza border, and Israel says it has stepped up airstrikes to reduce the risk to troops in the next stages. A ground excursion is likely to dramatically increase casualties in what is already the deadliest by far of five wars fought between Israel and Hamas since the militant seized power in Gaza in 2007.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack. At least 222 people were captured and dragged back to Gaza, including foreigners, the military said Monday, updating a previous figure.
More than 5,000 Palestinians, including some 2,000 minors and around 1,100 women, have been killed, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said Monday. That includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week. The toll has climbed rapidly in recent days, with the ministry reporting 436 additional deaths in just the last 24 hours.