ISRAEL + HAMAS

Israel confirms 11 hostages released from Hamas captivity have returned to Israeli territory

Nov 27, 2023, 2:11 PM | Updated: May 24, 2024, 10:37 am

This photo released by Schneider Children's Medical Center on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 shows Abigail E...

This photo released by Schneider Children's Medical Center on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 shows Abigail Edan, center, who returned last night to Israel, with her aunt Liron, left, and her uncle Zuli, right. Abigail was one of the third group of hostages released by Hamas on Sunday. Abigail's parents were both killed by Hamas militants in the same attack in which she was kidnapped, a cross-border assault Oct. 7 that prompted Israel to declare war on Hamas. (Spokesperson's Office, Schneider Children's Medical Center via AP)

(Spokesperson's Office, Schneider Children's Medical Center via AP)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The Israeli military says 11 hostages have been released from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip and returned to Israeli territory.

Military officials said late Monday that the hostages were on Israeli soil and undergoing initial medical checks before being reunited with their families.

It is the fourth such release under a cease-fire deal with the Hamas military group. Israel is to free 33 Palestinian prisoners later Monday.

The cease-fire had been set to expire early Tuesday. But Qatar, which has been mediating between the sides, said they agreed to extend the truce by two more days.

The war broke out Oct. 7 when Hamas militants burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 240 others captive. Israel declared war, and over 13,000 Palestinians have been killed in weeks of Israeli strikes, according to health authorities in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israeli media said the hostages included two women and nine children. Two of the children are 3 years old.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their cease-fire for two more days past Monday, the Qatari government said, raising 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 spokesman Majid Al Ansary in a post on X, came on the final day of the original four-day truce between the warring sides. The Israeli military said Monday evening that 11 hostages were handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza and were on their way to Israeli territory, marking the start of the fourth swap under the original truce.

Israel has 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.”

But Israel says it remains committed to crushing Hamas’ 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, government spokesperson Eylon Levy told reporters on Monday. Israel has said that, in addition to dismantling Hamas. freeing the rest of the captives is a top priority.

So far, 58 hostages have been released during the current truce, including 39 Israelis. Before the truce, four hostages were freed, another was rescued and two were found dead inside Gaza. Israel has released 117 Palestinians from prison since the truce began.

After weeks of national trauma over the roughly 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 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.

A THIRD RELEASE OF HOSTAGES AND PRISONERS

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 life-threatening 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 is currently sedated and has a breathing tube, but Amano said she told her of a new great grandchild who was born while she was in captivity.

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 laborers.

The Palestinian prisoners released were mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces, or of less-serious offenses. 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.

RESPITE IN GAZA

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 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 1 million are living in U.N. shelters. The Israeli military has barred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from returning north.

Rain and wind added to the hardship of displaced Palestinians sheltering in the compound of Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza. Palestinians in coats baked flatbreads over a makeshift fire among tents set up on the muddy grounds.

Alaa Mansour said the conditions are simply horrendous.

“My clothes are all wet and I am unable to change them.” said Mansour, who is disabled. “I have not drunk water for two days, and there’s no bathroom to use.”

The U.N. 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, water and sanitation facilities, but bakeries have been unable to resume work, the U.N. said.

Iyad Ghafary, a vendor in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, said many families were still unable to retrieve the dead from under the rubble left by Israeli airstrikes, and that local authorities weren’t equipped to deal with the level of destruction.

Many say the aid is not nearly enough.

Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who fled northern Gaza, said she had only managed to get one canned meal from a U.N. distribution center since the cease-fire began.

She said the crowds have overwhelmed local markets and gas stations as people try to stock up on basics. “People were desperate and went out to buy whenever they could,” she said. “They are extremely worried that the war will return.”
___
Jeffery and Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed.
___
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

 

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Israel confirms 11 hostages released from Hamas captivity have returned to Israeli territory