Gaza sees brief respite
Sides agree to extend ceasefire in hopes of further citizen exchanges
TIA GOLDENBERG, JACK JEFFERY AND SAMY MAGDY
Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their ceasefire for two more days past Monday, the Qatari government said, bringing the prospect of a longer halt to their deadliest and most destructive war and further exchanges of militant-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
The announcement, made by Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majid Al Ansary in a post on X, came on the final day of the original four-day truce between the warring sides.
In the fourth swap under the original four-day truce, 11 Israeli hostages, all women and children, were released from Hamas captivity Monday night in the Gaza Strip. Early Tuesday, 33 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons were freed and driven to the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
The truce deal has brought more shipments of fuel and supplies into Gaza — although aid groups say that barely makes a dent in the needs of the 2.3 million Palestinians who have endured weeks of Israeli siege and bombardment.
Monday’s releases bring the number of Israelis freed to 50, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.
Israel has said it would extend the ceasefire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. After the Qatari announcement, Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a twoday extension “under the same terms.”
But Israel says it remains committed to crushing Hamas’s military capabilities and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza after its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. That would likely mean expanding a ground offensive from devastated northern Gaza to the south, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have crammed into United Nations shelters, and where dire conditions persist despite the increased delivery of aid under the truce.
Israel will resume its operations with “full force” as soon as the current deal expires if Hamas does not agree to further hostage releases, with the goal of eliminating the group and freeing the rest of the captives, government spokesperson Eylon Levy told reporters on Monday.
After weeks of national trauma over the around 240 people abducted by Hamas and other militants, 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 four-year-old girl and dual Israeli American citizen who was released Sunday, said in a statement.
On Sunday, Hamas freed 17 hostages, including 14 Israelis, and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners — the third such exchange under the truce.
Most hostages appeared to be physically well, but 84-year-old Elma Avraham was airlifted to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in lifethreatening condition because of inadequate care, the hospital said.
Avraham’s daughter, Tali Amano, said her mother was “hours from death” when she was brought to the hospital. Avraham suffered from several chronic conditions that required regular medications but was stable before she was kidnapped, Amano said Monday.
So far, 19 people of other nationalities have been freed during the truce, mostly Thai nationals. Many Thais work in Israel, largely as farm labourers.
The Palestinian prisoners released were mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces, or of less-serious offences. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.
The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye, but details of their captivity have started to trickle out.
Merav Raviv, whose three relatives were released Friday, said they had been fed irregularly and lost weight. One reported eating mainly bread and rice and sleeping on a makeshift bed of chairs pushed together. Hostages sometimes had to wait for hours to use the bathroom, she said.
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 Hamasruled 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 troops have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.
The Israeli assault has driven three-quarters of Gaza’s population from their homes, and now most of its 2.3 million people are crowded into the south. More than one million are living in UN shelters.
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 conflict, 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, water and sanitation facilities.
Monday’s releases brought the number of Israelis freed to 50, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited