Hamas free more Israeli, Thai hostages including American girl, 4,

  • Red Cross receives latest group of Israeli and foreign hostages
  • Biden hopes pause in fighting can go on as long as prisoners are getting released
  • Killing of a Palestinian farmer in central Gaza earlier added to concerns over fragility of truce

JERUSALEM/GAZA: On the third day of a truce with Israel, a four-year-old American girl held by Hamas in Gaza was released on Sunday, President Joe Biden confirmed, as the Palestinian group said it had handed over 13 Israeli hostages, three Thais and one with Russian citizenship.

The release of some of the hostages captured when Hamas fighters rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7 is expected to be mirrored by the Israelis freeing another group of 39 Palestinian prisoners as on previous days in the truce.

Biden said he hoped the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas can go on as long as prisoners are getting released. He said he hoped more Americans would be released by Hamas although he did not have firm news.

Biden said the 4-year-old hostage, Abigail Edan, had witnessed her parents being killed by Hamas fighters during their Oct. 7 raid into Israel and had been held since then.

“What she endured is unthinkable,” Biden said at a news conference in the U.S.

The four-day truce is the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages back into Gaza.

In response to that attack, Israel has vowed to destroy the Hamas militants who run Gaza, bombarding the enclave and mounting a ground offensive in the north. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met security forces inside the Gaza Strip and indicated that the campaign was far from over.

“Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the strength, the power, the will and the determination to achieve all the goals of the war, and that is what we will do,” he said.

Netanyahu is expected to speak to Biden later on Sunday.

39 Palestinian children to be freed in 3rd set of releases under hostage swap deal

In Ramallah, Palestinian authorities released on Sunday the names of Palestinian prisoners set to be released in the third batch of hostage exchange between Israel and Hamas.

The list, revealed by the governmental Commission of Detainees’ Affairs and Palestinian Prisoners Society, a local nongovernmental organization, exclusively included the names of child prisoners, totaling 39.

Among them are 21 children from Jerusalem, one is from Rafah in the Gaza Strip, and the remainders are from various parts of the West Bank.

 

FARMER KILLED

The killing of a Palestinian farmer in the central Gaza Strip had earlier added to concerns over the fragility of the truce.

The farmer was killed when targeted by Israeli forces east of Gaza’s long-established Maghazi refugee camp, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Thirteen Israelis and four Thai nationals arrived in Israel early on Sunday after a second release of hostages held by Hamas following an initial delay caused by a dispute about aid delivery into Gaza.

Egypt and Qatar acted as mediators on Saturday to maintain the truce.

The armed wing of Hamas also said on Sunday that four of its military commanders in the Gaza Strip had been killed, including the commander of the North Gaza brigade, Ahmad Al Ghandour. It did not say when they had been killed.

Qatar, Egypt and the United States are pressing for the truce to be extended beyond Monday but it is not clear whether that will happen.

Israel had said the ceasefire could be extended if Hamas continued to release at least 10 hostages a day. A Palestinian source had said up to 100 hostages could go free.

WEST BANK VIOLENCE

Six of the group of 13 Israelis released on Saturday were women and seven were teenagers or children. The youngest was three-year-old Yahel Shoham, freed with her mother and brother, although her father remains a hostage.

Israel freed 39 Palestinians – six women and 33 teenagers – from two prisons, the Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

Some of the Palestinians arrived at Al-Bireh Municipality Square in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where thousands of citizens awaited them, a Reuters journalist said.

Violence flared in the West Bank where Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians, including two minors and at least one gunman, late on Saturday and early Sunday, medics and local sources said.

Even before the Oct. 7 attacks from Gaza, the West Bank had been in a state of unrest, with a rise in Israeli army raids, Palestinian attacks, and violence by Israeli settlers in the past 18 months. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Oct. 7, some in Israeli air strikes.

Saturday’s swap follows the previous day’s initial release of 13 Israeli hostages, including children and the elderly, by Hamas in return for the release of 39 Palestinian women and teenagers from Israeli prisons.

The four Thais freed on Saturday “want a shower and to contact their relatives”, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on social media platform X. All were safe and showed few ill-effects, he said.

“I’m so happy, I’m so glad, I can’t describe my feeling at all,” Thongkoon Onkaew told Reuters by telephone after news of the release of her son Natthaporn, 26, the family’s sole breadwinner.

DAYS OF CALM

The deal risked being derailed when Hamas’ armed wing said on Saturday it was delaying releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to let aid trucks into northern Gaza.

Saving the deal took a day of diplomacy mediated by Qatar and Egypt, which President Biden also joined.

Al-Qassam Brigades also said Israel had failed to respect terms for the release of Palestinian prisoners that factored in their time in detention.

COGAT, the Israeli agency for civilian coordination with the Palestinians, accused Hamas itself of delaying trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to northern Gaza at a checkpoint.

“To Hamas, residents of Gaza are their last priority,” it said on Sunday.

Saturday also brought hours of waiting for the families of hostages, some of whose joy was tempered by the continued captivity of others.

“My heart is split because my son, Itay, is still in Hamas’ captivity in Gaza,” Mirit Regev, the mother of Maya Regev, who was released late on Saturday, said in a statement from the Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

Aid dispute

The deal risked being derailed when Hamas’ armed wing said on Saturday it was delaying releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to let aid trucks into northern Gaza.

Saving the deal took a day of high-stakes diplomacy mediated by Qatar and Egypt, which US President Joe Biden also joined.

Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said only 65 of 340 aid trucks that had entered Gaza since Friday had reached northern Gaza, or “less than half of what Israel agreed on.”

Al-Qassam Brigades also said Israel had failed to respect terms for the release of Palestinian prisoners that factored in their time in detention.

The Israeli military said the United Nations and international organizations distribute aid within the Gaza Strip. The UN said 61 trucks delivered aid to northern Gaza on Saturday, the most since the war began seven weeks ago. They included food, water and emergency medical supplies.

UN says 61 trucks deliver aid in northern Gaza

The United Nations said 61 trucks carrying medical supplies, food and water had delivered their payloads in northern Gaza, as a pause in fighting allows aid to enter the besieged coastal territory.

Another 200 trucks had been dispatched to the Gaza Strip from Nitzana, Israel, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement, with 187 of them having made it past the border by the early evening local time.

Eleven ambulances, three coaches and a flatbed were delivered to Al-Shifa hospital, which had seen heavy fighting in recent days, “to assist with evacuations,” the statement said.

“The longer the pause lasts, the more aid humanitarian agencies will be able to send in and across Gaza,” it added, thanking the Palestinian and Egyptian Red Crescent groups.

The day prior, when a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas began in order to facilitate the hostage and prisoner exchange, a total of 137 trucks had delivered aid in Gaza, according to the UN.

“We welcome the release of more hostages today and renew our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” the OCHA said.

“And we hope the release of more Palestinian detainees brings relief to their families and loved ones.”

Exchanges continued into early Sunday, local time, with Hamas expected to free a total of 50 hostages during the four-day truce in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, under an agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Hamas fighters snatched around 240 people when they broke through Gaza’s militarized border with Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners, according to Israeli authorities.

Following the deadliest attack in its history, Israel launched an air, artillery and naval bombardment alongside a ground offensive to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.

Tens of thousands take to European streets to call for Gaza cease-fire

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Saturday in Europe to demand a permanent cease-fire in Gaza amid a temporary humanitarian pause in the fighting.

The large crowd, who marched from Hyde Park to Parliament Square in London, carried Palestinian flags and chanted: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” and “Free Palestine.”

They asked the UK government and politicians to end its support of Israel and call for an immediate cease-fire and the extension of the four-day humanitarian pause in Gaza.

People also took to the streets in the German city of Aachen to support Palestine, despite the cold weather.

The crowd gathered near the central train station, carrying Palestine flags and banners, and chanting slogans such as “Free Palestine.”

The protesters criticized the Western countries for their support for Israel.

Besides the city of Aachen, the German capital also has been the stage for protesters.

Thousands participated in a march organized by the United Palestinian National Committee in Berlin, starting from Anhalter Bahnhof Square in the city center and ending at the Berlin Cathedral.

Protesters against Israel’s attacks on Gaza carried banners with the words: “Silence is violence”, “Free Palestine”, “Cease-fire now”, “Exist, resist, return” and “Stop the occupying terror.”

Demonstrators chanted: “Freedom for Palestine”, “Freedom for Gaza”, “Germany is financing, Israel is bombing” and “Stop the genocide.”

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Geneva marched toward the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights headquarters in Switzerland as they protested Israeli attacks on Palestine and chanted slogans for Gazan residents and criticized women and children’s deaths at the hands of Israeli forces.

Demonstrators called for the “prevention of the genocide in Gaza” and an “immediate cease-fire” by Israel.

In addition, Austria witnessed protesters taking to the streets to show their desire for Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza.

Protesters gathered in Mariahilfer, one of the important streets of the capital, Vienna, and carried banners that read: “Let the genocide end in Gaza”, “No to the occupation”, “Killer Netanyahu” as well as Palestinian flags.

To draw attention to the more than 6,000 Palestinian children who were murdered in Israeli attacks, some demonstrators wore shrouds, while others carried stuffed shrouds and children’s coffins.

Demonstrators were on the streets in Milan, Italy’s second biggest city, for a straight seventh week.

Pro-Palestinians, who organized marches on Milan’s main arteries in previous weeks, this time gathered for a rally in front of the Sforzesco Castle in the city center.

At the protests, messages of support and solidarity were given to Palestine while protesting Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

More than 1,000 people gathered at demonstrations, chanting slogans such as “Freedom for Palestine” and “Freedom for Gaza,” as well as reacting to the Israeli attacks.

Despite the humanitarian pause that came into effect on Friday morning, the Israeli army continued raids and arrests in various cities and towns across the occupied West Bank.

Israel and Hamas swapped 24 Israelis and foreigners for 39 Palestinians from Israeli jails on Friday, the first day of the temporary humanitarian pause.

Under the agreement, the hostages will be released in batches over the course of four days.

Israel launched a massive military campaign against the Gaza Strip following a cross-border attack by Hamas last month.

It has since killed at least 14,854 Palestinians, including 6,150 children and over 4,000 women, according to health authorities in the enclave.

The official Israeli death toll stands at 1,200.

 

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