Mon. Feb 26th, 2024


The truce has paused fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas attacked Israel

Palestinian Territories:

A new group of Israeli hostages were set to be freed Tuesday in exchange for Palestinian prisoners as Israel and Hamas embarked on a two-day extension of a truce that has paused the devastating Gaza war. The temporary cessation of hostilities and releases of captives were hailed as a glimpse of hope after seven weeks of conflict sparked by deadly Hamas attacks that prompted an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

A source close to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas told AFP that 10 hostages held in Gaza would be freed in return for 30 prisoners released from Israeli prisons on Tuesday in the first exchanges under the truce extension.

“Lists of the 10 Israeli hostages and 30 Palestinian prisoners for the fifth day of the truce were exchanged without objections,” the source told AFP.

In addition to those releases, “some foreign workers held in Gaza” will also be freed, the source said.

The 7:00 am (0500 GMT) deadline for the first phase of the ceasefire to expire passed without major incidents after 11 more Israeli hostages were freed from Gaza and 33 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel overnight.

But an AFP journalist saw an Israeli tank fire three times in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of Gaza City as Palestinians attempted to make use of the lull to return to their homes.

The Israeli military described the shelling as “warning shots”, saying its tank fired as suspected militants approached army positions. At least one person was hurt, the AFP reporter saw. Hamas and UN officials have reported that Israeli fire has killed at least one person since the truce began on November 24.

The truce paused fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping dozens.

Israel’s retaliatory ground and air operation in the Gaza Strip has killed almost 15,000 people, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s Hamas government.

AFPTV images show buildings several storeys high flattened by the Israeli bombardments in the central Gaza Strip and residents walking through the rubble of ruined homes.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the ceasefire extension as “a glimpse of hope and humanity in the middle of the darkness of war”.

Israel has vowed to stick to its war aim of destroying Hamas and rescuing all 240 hostages.

Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said that his government would use the extension to work for a “sustainable truce”.

The heads of the US and Israeli intelligence agencies were in Qatar to discuss the “next phase” of the Gaza deal, a source briefed on their visit said.

The latest round of exchanges on Monday night brought the total number of people released under the truce to 50 Israeli hostages, and 150 Palestinian prisoners, all women and minors.

Another 19 hostages have been freed under separate deals, including Thai workers and a dual Russian-Israeli citizen.

Eleven hostages arrived in Israel late Monday, mostly dual nationals, with Argentinians, French and Germans among those released, according to Qatari mediators.

Images released by the Israeli military showed French-Israeli child Eitan Yahalomi reunited with his mother, who gripped him tightly to her.

Sharon Calderon, the aunt of 16-year-old Sahar and 12-year-old Erez who were released on Monday, called for their father Ofer to be freed also. Two other family members were killed on October 7.

“We’ve got Erez and Sahar here and we’re very, very happy we got them home. We have to get Ofer and the rest of the kidnapped and bring them here… to be again a big happy family.”

Shortly after the arrival of the hostages was confirmed, Israel’s prison authority said 33 Palestinian inmates had been released.

In annexed east Jerusalem, prisoner Muhammad Abu Al-Humus called his release “an indescribable joy” and kissed his mother’s hand as he entered his home.

“I’m very happy. I hope that others will soon be released — my friends, my cousins.”

Crowds in the West Bank town of Beitunia waved green Hamas flags to greet released prisoners arriving on a coach.

But nearby there were also clashes with Israeli troops by Ofer prison, with Palestinians burning tyres and throwing stones. The Palestinian health ministry said one person was killed.

Israel views the truce as a temporary measure to secure hostage releases and says it plans to continue its military offensive. The government has agreed a 30.3 billion shekel ($8.2 billion) war budget that will now go to parliament.

But Israel faces increasing pressure for a more lasting ceasefire and the ramp-up of humanitarian aid to Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to pay his third wartime visit to the Middle East this week, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.

“The secretary will stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and improve protection to civilians in Gaza,” a senior US official said.

US officials said the United States was sending three military aircraft to Egypt from Tuesday to bring medicine, food and “winter items” for Gaza via northern Egypt.

In Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry said no fuel had arrived for generators at hospitals in the territory’s north, despite the truce.

EU commissioner Janez Lenarcic, in charge of crisis management, said Israeli restrictions on fuel supplies to Gaza were hampering aid deliveries and humanitarian access required under a UN resolution.

“The humanitarian access should be based on the needs and not on some restrictions,” he said.

Senior UN official Tor Wennesland warned the humanitarian situation in Gaza “remains catastrophic”.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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