World

Fourth set of hostages freed as Gaza truce extended by two days

November 28, 2023
So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.
So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.

RAMALLAH — Just hours before the four-day truce was due to expire om Monday, Qatar said Israel and Hamas have agreed to a two-day extension, raising the prospecct of a longer halt to their destructive war.

For a fourth successive night, a batch of Israeli hostages has been exchanged for a group of Palestinian prisoners under the temporary truce.

The 33 Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails after midnight local time. Earlier Hamas had released 11 Israeli captives, dual nationals of France, Germany or Argentina.

The UN has used the lull in fighting to increase urgent aid deliveries to Gazans but has warned the consignments are a drop in the ocean.

Gazans have been using the pause in fighting to get supplies and move across the territory – in many cases to return to their homes, and to assess the damage and look for winter clothes as the weather turns rainy and windy.

Eleven Israeli women and children, freed by Hamas, entered Israel Monday night after more than seven weeks in captivity in Gaza in the fourth swap under the original four-day truce, which began Friday.

Thirty-three Palestinian prisoners released by Israel arrived early Tuesday in east Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah. The prisoners were greeted by loud cheers as their bus made its way through the streets of Ramallah, the Associated Press reported.

The deal for two additional days of cease-fire, covering Tuesday and Wednesday, raised hopes for further extensions, which also allow more aid into Gaza. Conditions there have remained dire for 2.3 million Palestinians, battered by weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground offensive that have driven three-quarters of the population from their homes.

Israel had said it would extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. After the announcement by Qatar — a key mediator in the conflict, along with the United States and Egypt — Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a two-day extension “under the same terms.”

Monday’s releases bring to 51 the number of Israelis freed under the truce, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.

After weeks of national trauma over the roughly 240 people taken hostage by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, scenes of the women and children reuniting with families have rallied Israelis behind calls to return those who remain in captivity.

“We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” two relatives of Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl and dual Israeli-American citizen who was released Sunday, said in a statement.

Hamas and other militants could still be holding up to 175 hostages, enough to potentially extend the cease-fire for two and a half weeks. But those include a number of soldiers, and Hamas is likely to make much greater demands for their release.

The newly released hostages included three women and nine children — including 3-year-old twin girls and their mother — from the kibbutz Nir Oz, a community near Gaza that was hard hit in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. The kibbutz said 49 of its residents remain in captivity, including the father of the twins. The Israeli military said late Monday that the hostages were undergoing initial medical checks in Israel before being reunited with their families.

Most of the hostages freed so far have appeared to be physically well. But 84-year-old Elma Avraham, released Sunday, was airlifted to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in a serous condition.

Avraham’s daughter, Tali Amano, said her mother was “hours from death” when she was brought to the hospital. She suffered from several chronic conditions that required regular medications.

So far, 19 people of other nationalities have been freed during the truce, mostly Thai nationals. Many Thais work in Israel, largely as farm laborers.

France said three of the hostages released Monday were French-Israeli dual citizens, two 12-year-olds and one 16-year-old. The French government is ‘’working tirelessly’’ to free five other French citizens held hostage, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Palestinian prisoners released so far have been mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces, or of less-serious offenses. But some were convicted in alleged attempts to carry out stabbings, bombings and shootings. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby welcomed the extension of the truce.

“We would, of course, hope to see the pause extended further, and that will depend upon Hamas continuing to release hostages,” Kirby told reporters.

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.

The calm from the truce allowed glimpses of the destruction wreaked by weeks of Israeli bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods.

Footage showed a complex of several dozen multistory residential buildings that had been pummeled into a landscape of wreckage in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Nearly every building was destroyed or severely damaged, some reduced to concrete frames half-slumped over. At a nearby U.N. school, the buildings were intact but partially burned and riddled with holes.

The UN says the truce made it possible to scale up the delivery of food, water and medicine to the largest volume since the start of the war. But the 160 to 200 trucks a day is still less than half what Gaza was importing before the fighting, even as humanitarian needs have soared.

Long lines formed outside stations distributing cooking fuel, allowed in for the first time. Fuel for generators has been brought for key service providers, including hospitals and water and sanitation facilities, but bakeries have been unable to resume work, the UN said. — Agencies


November 28, 2023
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