Hamas releases 11 more hostages, as Israel agrees to extend ceasefire

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 on Monday (Israel time) 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 ceasefire deal with the Hamas military group.

Thirty-three Palestinian prisoners released by Israel arrived early on Tuesday in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The prisoners were greeted by loud cheers as their bus made its way through the streets.

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

Later, the Israeli military said the Red Cross had confirmed 11 hostages were back on Israeli territory.

Qatar said the newly released hostages included three with French citizenship, two with German citizenship and six Argentinians.

Hamas said earlier it had received the list of 33 Palestinians to be released from Israeli jails in return. Hamas said these included three female prisoners and 30 minors.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the extension would also be used to send tens of thousands of litres of fuel into the enclave, where more than 13,000 Palestinians have already died, according to figures provided by Hamas-run organisations. More than 1200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians who died in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.

“The approach we’ve taken with Israel, and quite frankly our partners in the region, is working,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.

“It’s getting aid into people that need it, it’s getting a pause in the fighting, it’s getting hostages out, it’s getting Americans out.”

Kirby, who said he wanted to see a further pause in the fighting after the additional two days had elapsed, said US President Joe Biden had personally worked on the extension during a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overnight.

Asked if the pause could enable Hamas to regroup and launch fresh attacks on Israel, Kirby said that was a real risk.

“This is a calculated risk that Prime Minister Netanyahu is willing to take in order to get those hostages out, so it’s a balance,” he said.

“And as you’ve also heard the Israelis say, once the pauses are over, they intend to go right back at military operations.”

The deal was first announced by the Qatari Foreign Ministry in a post on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, just hours after the head of NATO, speaking in Brussels, called for a ceasefire extension.

Hamas confirmed it had agreed the two-day extension, telling Reuters by phone: “An agreement has been reached with the brothers in Qatar and Egypt to extend the temporary humanitarian truce by two more days, with the same conditions as in the previous truce.”

The earlier release of dozens of people over three nights – mostly women and children who were among roughly 240 captured by Hamas and other militants during the October 7 raid that led to the latest fighting – has rallied Israelis behind calls to release all hostages.

Egyptian officials said that violence in the occupied West Bank was complicating negotiations, with Hamas demanding an end to Israeli military raids. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and scores killed in clashes with Israeli forces since the war began.

Speaking ahead of a gathering of foreign ministers in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the latest breakthroughs and warned Iran to stand down its proxies amid ongoing fears the conflict in Gaza could spark a wider regional war.

“I call on an extension of the pause because this will give the people of Gaza much-needed relief,” he said. “It will also enable further release of hostages. The suffering we have seen underlines the need for a lasting political solution.”

Stoltenberg said that drone and rocket strikes on US positions in Syria and Iraq and commercial ships risked escalating the conflict beyond Israel and Gaza’s borders. “Iran must rein in its proxies,” he said.

NATO does not have any active role in the conflict, but its largest contributor, the United States, is Israel’s closest ally.

Respite in Gaza

The ceasefire has given some respite to Gaza’s 2.3 million people after weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment that has driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and levelled entire neighbourhoods.

But many say it’s not nearly enough.

Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who fled northern Gaza to stay with a host family in the southern city of Rafah, said she had only managed to get one canned meal from a UN distribution centre since the ceasefire began.

She helps other families in the neighbourhood cook over firewood in return for food for her sons, ages four to 10.

hamas releases 11 more hostages, as israel agrees to extend ceasefire

Palestinian Samy Al Bahnasawy sits next to the body of his wife, who died at an Egyptian hospital from injuries sustained during the war. He is pictured crossing back into Gaza.

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.”

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.

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 fighting, even as humanitarian needs have soared.

–With AP, Reuters

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