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Hamas hands over two Israeli-Russian hostages held in Gaza

palestinian islamist group hamas releases hostages
Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 29, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A convoy of vehicles with two Israeli-Russian hostages released by Hamas arrived in Israel on Wednesday on the final day of a two-day extension of a truce in the war between the Palestinian militants and Israel.

As part of an exchange deal, more Palestinians held by Israel were expected to be released from Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday night.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified two women freed on Wednesday night as Yelena Trupanov, 50, and Irena Tati, 73. Video from Hamas’ armed wing showed the women being handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross and driven out of the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, an ally of Hamas, said earlier it had handed over several civilian hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers were expected to free at least 10 hostages on Wednesday under the terms of the truce agreement.

The handover of hostages was overshadowed by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas, the largest militant group in Gaza, that a family of Israeli hostages including the youngest hostage, baby Kfir Bibas, had been killed during earlier Israeli bombardment.

Israeli officials said they were checking the Hamas report about the Bibas family, a very emotive issue in Israel where the family – 10-month-old Kfir, his 4-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri – is among the most high-profile hostages.

Relatives of the Bibas family said they had been informed of the Hamas report. “We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials,” a statement from the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said.

The two hostages freed were among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in retaliation has killed more than 15,000 Gazans, according to health authorities in the Palestinian enclave.

 

TRUCE EXTENSION TALKS

Two Palestinian officials told Reuters that talks were continuing over a possible extension of the truce, which is scheduled to expire early on Thursday, but no agreement had yet been reached.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels he would work with the Israelis during a trip there in the coming days to see if the temporary ceasefire could be extended.

An Israeli official said earlier it would be impossible to extend the ceasefire without a commitment to release all women and children among the hostages. The official said Israel believed that militants were still holding enough women and children to prolong the truce by two to three days.

A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange of three Palestinian detainees for each Israeli hostage that has applied to the women and children.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Israel would consider any serious proposal.

So far Gaza militants have freed 60 Israeli women and children under the deal that secured the war’s first truce. Twenty-one foreigners, mainly Thai farmworkers, were also freed under separate parallel deals. Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara cried when he met Thais released to Israel by Hamas after seven weeks of captivity and said he hoped for freedom soon for the remaining 13 Thai hostages.

In return, Israel has released 180 Palestinian security detainees, all women and teenagers.

 

NETANYAHU VOWS TO CONTINUE WAR

The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel says it would be willing to prolong it for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day. But with fewer women and children held, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time.

Israel’s Netanyahu repeated earlier statements to pursue the war to destroy Hamas once the ceasefire lapses.

“There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end. This is my policy, the entire cabinet stands behind it, the entire government stands behind it, the soldiers stand behind it, the people stand behind it – this is exactly what we will do,” Netanyahu said.

The truce has brought the first respite in the bombardment of Gaza with much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million having been reduced to wasteland.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday the Gaza Strip was in the midst of an “epic humanitarian catastrophe” and urged the world not to look away.

“Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce – which we strongly welcome – but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he told the U.N. Security Council.

Four Palestinians, including an 8-year-old boy and a 15-year-old as well as two senior militant commanders, were killed on Wednesday by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian official news agency WAFA said. The Israeli military said people threw explosive devices at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire.

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