Netanyahu says more hostage releases are ‘welcome’ as pause continues
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “welcomes” the additional release of hostages as Israel and Hamas extend a pause in fighting for two more days.
The process of transferring a fifth group of militant-held hostages to the Red Cross en route to freedom began Tuesday, several media outlets reported, as the two-day extension of an uneasy truce played out in the war-battered Gaza Strip.
Hamas has handed over of a fifth group of hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, which is facilitating their transfer out of the enclave, Egyptian officials told the Wall Street Journal. Several Israeli news outlets and ABC News, citing a source in the Israeli prime minister’s office with direct knowledge of the operation, also said the process had begun and that it was unclear how long the release would take.
A timeline for the scheduled release of 30 Palestinians from Israeli prisons was not immediately available. Hamas leaders schedule a press conference for 1 p.m. ET in Beirut but provided no details on content other than the “latest developments of the ongoing Zionist aggression against our people.”
Eleven hostages were freed and reached Israel late Monday, and Israel released 33 Palestinian prisoners. Almost 70 women and child hostages as young as 3 have been released during a truce that began Friday, 50 of them Israelis, along with 150 women and teen Palestinians − one age 14 − from Israeli prisons.
A two-day extension of the truce called for Hamas to release 10 hostages Tuesday and 10 Wednesday. Israel was scheduled to release 30 Palestinians each day.
11 more hostages freed in Gaza: Israel-Hamas truce extended by 2 days
∎ About two-thirds of the Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails since Friday were being held under administrative detention, meaning they were not told the charges against them or given due legal process, according to an analysis of Israel Prison Service data by CNN. The other third had been convicted and sentenced.
∎ Relatives and a friend of Israelis kidnapped or killed by Hamas visited Australia’s Parliament House on Tuesday to lobby for support of Israel’s war effort and to increase international pressure for release of hostages held by Hamas.
Fact check: False claim that Doctors Without Borders medic helped terrorists
CIA Director Bill Burns and Mossad chief David Barnea were in Qatar on Tuesday for meetings with officials from Qatar and Egypt, according to multiple media reports. The Times of Israel said talks centered around a proposal to expand the temporary truce for additional days so all women and children hostages could be released. The Washington Post said Burns is pushing for expanding the releases beyond just women and children and for the immediate release of the eight or nine Americans believed to be held by Hamas.
“We are trying to build trust and goodwill to open the door for a long-term peace and a political settlement,” a senior Egyptian official told the Wall Street Journal. “It is a long shot, but so far both sides have refrained from seeking military advantage during the pause which gives us hopes that it is doable.”
Three explosive devices were detonated Tuesday by militants near Israeli troops in two northern Gaza locations in violation of the cease-fire, the Israeli military said. In one of the locations, militants also opened fire at the troops, who fired back, the military said. A “number” of soldiers were lightly injured during the incidents. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ignore the cease-fire and have the military “crush Hamas with force.”
“Hamas has now tried to murder (Israeli) soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip,” Ben-Gvir said on social media. “We must not wait until our fighters are killed. We must once again act in accordance with the goal of the war: the total destruction of Hamas.”
Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of “a clear violation by the enemy of the truce agreement in the north of the Gaza Strip today” and said its fighters dealt with the violation.
“We are committed to the truce that the enemy committed to and we call on the mediators to pressure the occupation to comply with all the clauses of the truce on the ground and in the air,” the group said in a statement on Telegram.
A U.S. Air Force transport plane airlifted 27 tons of medical supplies, food and nutrition assistance to Egypt on Tuesday, stepping up the humanitarian effort for Gaza. Egyptian authorities truck the aid into Gaza for distribution by U.N. agencies, the U.S. Agency for International Development said in a statement. More flights are planned as the Biden administration expands humanitarian efforts during the temporary cease-fire.
“The United States will continue to lead the humanitarian response in Gaza to further support those in desperate need,” the statement said.
More than 2,000 trucks of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since Oct. 21, including 800 trucks in just the last few days while fighting temporarily halted as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas to release hostages held in Gaza.
President Joe Biden announced $100 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza last month after Israel declared war on Hamas following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The military’s humanitarian flights into Egypt follow five commercial flights into Egypt for humanitarian purposes.
Gaza is at high risk of explosive outbreaks of infectious diseases because of intense overcrowding and the disruption of health, water and sanitation systems, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday. WHO said in a statement that food shortages are making people weak from hunger and more likely to get sick.
The agency called for an extended cease-fire, sustained access for humanitarian aid into Gaza, protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law.
Israel must work to avoid “significant further displacement” of Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza if it renews its ground campaign aimed at eradicating Hamas, senior U.S. officials said. The administration, seeking to avoid more large-scale civilian casualties or mass displacement, underscored to the Israelis that they must operate with greater precision in southern Gaza than they did in the north, the officials said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.
Israeli Prime Minister has repeatedly said Israel will eventually restart its military campaign in Gaza in an effort to crush Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis. The Gaza Health Ministry says the ensuing Israel assault on Gaza has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians.
Contributing: The Associated Press
David Turner is a globe-trotting journalist who brings a global perspective to our readers. With a commitment to shedding light on international events, he explores complex geopolitical issues, offering a nuanced view of the world’s most pressing challenges.