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Israel-Palestine war: Fifth group of captives exchanged amid push to extend truce


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Israel-Palestine war: Fifth group of captives exchanged amid push to extend truce

Hamas and Israel exchanged another batch of prisoners as part of an extended six-day truce, as mediators eye extending the agreement

MEE staff

Tue, 11/28/2023 – 20:07

Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters accompany newly released hostages before handing them over to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 28 November (AFP)

Hamas and Israel on Tuesday exchanged a fifth batch of prisoners as part of an extended six-day truce, while mediators pushed to reach a more lasting settlement to the war.

The Red Cross said on Tuesday that 12 hostages had been released from Gaza – 10 Israelis and two foreign nationals. Qatar confirmed that ten Israeli hostages had been transferred from Hamas to the Red Cross but added that more foreign nationals were also part of the deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that two Thai nationals had been freed in addition to the Israelis.

Later on Tuesday, Israel said it released 30 Palestinian prisoners, as part of the deal. The batch of prisoners included 15 women and 15 teenage males, according to Qatar.

Al Jazeera showed live footage of a bus carrying the prisoners as it left Israel’s Ofer prison on its way to the occupied West Bank city of Beitunia near Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Images from Rafah near Egypt’s Gaza border crossing captured the handover of hostages by Hamas to the Red Cross amid a cheering crowd of onlookers.

One photograph showed a Hamas fighter pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Another showed Hamas fighters walking beside a young girl holding a dog. The girl was identified as 17-year-old Israeli, Mia Leimberg, by Israeli media.

Palestinians who were released have given numerous accounts of mistreatment by Israeli authorities to several media outlets. One prisoner freed today, Ahmed Saleimi, said that he was only given two meals a day, often went hungry, and that women in the prison were beaten. His father said he was the youngest Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody and was placed under house arrest when he was 13, and then moved to a jail when he turned 14. 

Another captive told media earlier on Tuesday that Israel’s treatment of prisoners changed markedly after 7 October, for the worse, citing beatings and other forms of punishment.

Tuesday marked the first exchange since the initial four-day truce between Hamas and Israel that began on Friday was extended for two days.

It came amid reports that Egypt and Qatar – two key meditators – were pushing for a more lasting truce to the conflict.

Spy chiefs in Doha

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said Tuesday that Doha was working to turn the truce into “a permanent cease-fire”, the Wall Street Journal reported.

CIA director Bill Burns was in Qatar on Tuesday, along with Israel’s Mossad chief, David Barnea, for negotiations.

Burns is pushing for what multiple US media reports say is a substantially longer truce and broader prison exchange that could see Israeli men and soldiers released by Hamas.

Israel-Palestine war: Truce extension comes as Biden faces calls to condition military aid

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So far, Israel and Hamas have limited their exchanges to women and children. A shift could entail Israel releasing Palestinian fighters and officials.

While Hamas and Israel have both accused each other of violating the truce, the agreement has generally held up, with both sides committing to the prisoner exchange.

Tuesday’s release of hostages is likely to bolster mediators’ efforts to extend the truce.

Israel has vowed to continue the war in Gaza after the temporary truce, but has released statements suggesting that a longer truce could be in the works.

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu released a video clip saying, “So far we’ve released 74 hostages – of whom 50 children and women were in the original framework,” adding, “We are committed to completing this framework – to release all of our hostages, women and children. And after that, all of them, without exception.”

Israel and Hamas exchange fifth group of captives amid push to extend truce

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