Talks under way to extend Israel-Hamas ceasefire as return to fighting looms | Israel-Hamas war

todayNovember 27, 2023 5

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Talks are under way to extend the temporary ceasefire in Gaza, with Hamas and Israel both saying they would like to see further releases of hostages in return for freedom for more Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

But the ceasefire is due to expire on Tuesday at 7am, threatening a return to the bloody fighting and bombardment that has devastated swaths of Gaza, killed many thousands of civilians and caused an acute humanitarian crisis.

The third release of prisoners and of mostly Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas took place without major problems on Sunday night.

Israel and Hamas have each raised concerns over the lists of hostages and Palestinian prisoners due to be released on Monday, which Qatari mediators are now working to resolve.

“There is a slight issue with today’s lists. The Qataris are working with both sides to … avoid delays,” an official briefed on the matter said.

Seventeen hostages were released by Hamas on Sunday, including a Russian national and three Thai nationals. The Israelis were all women or children. Thirty-nine Palestinian prisoners, mostly children, were freed from Israeli jails, authorities said.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has said he did not want to end the ceasefire but pledged that Israel would resume its military offensive in Gaza at the end of the truce.

Netanyahu, who has promised Israelis he will “crush” Hamas, said he would welcome an extension to allow the release of 10 additional hostages every day in return for freedom for 30 Palestinian prisoners, as agreed under the original deal.

Israeli officials insist they will not call off their offensive until they are certain that Hamas no longer poses a threat to Israel.

Joe Biden said on Sunday that his administration would “continue to remain personally engaged to see that this deal is fully implemented and work to extend the deal as well”.

Local media in Israel reported optimism among senior officials that the truce, which was the result of several weeks of complex indirect negotiations mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt, would be extended.

Sixty-two of the more than 240 hostages held by Hamas since last month have been released, one hostage was freed by Israeli forces, and two were found dead inside Gaza. A total of 117 Palestinians have been freed since the truce began.

The conflict was triggered when Hamas broke through the perimeter fence around Gaza on 7 October and attacked communities in southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians in their homes or at a music festival. More than 240 people were abducted, including infants, elderly people, disabled people, soldiers and foreign farm workers.

Between 13,000 and 15,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli offensive launched after the Hamas attack, roughly two-thirds of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. More than 1 million people have been forced from their homes.

Qatar has said Hamas needs to find dozens of hostages in order to extend the truce. The state’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said that it was believed at least 40 women and children were being detained in Gaza but were not being held by Hamas.

“If they get additional women and children, there will be an extension,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. “We don’t yet have any clear information how many they can find because … one of the purposes [of the pause] is they will have time to search for the rest of the missing people.”

Many hostages are believed to be in the hands of other armed factions or civilians who followed Hamas militants into Israel on 7 October.

The Palestinians so far released by Israel included at least two women who had been given long sentences after being convicted by Israeli courts of violent attacks. They have been greeted by jubilant crowds.

Omar Abdullah Al Hajj, 17, one of the Palestinian detainees released on Sunday, said he had heard nothing about the war while in prison.

“I can’t believe I’m free now but my joy is incomplete because we still have our brothers who remain in prison, and then there is all the news about Gaza that I am having to learn about now,” said Al Hajj, whom Israel’s justice ministry accused of belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group and posing an unspecified security threat.

Relatives of the many thousands of Palestinians detained by Israel anxiously waited for news, hoping for more releases if the ceasefire is extended.

The truce has allowed significant quantities of aid to reach Gaza for the first time since the war began. But agencies warn much more is needed to deal with the consequences of the fighting, massive bombardment, mass displacement and the almost total blockade imposed by Israel on fuel, food, medicine and other essentials.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now sheltering in hugely overcrowded UN shelters, hospitals and private homes, where dire conditions persist despite an increase in the delivery of humanitarian aid under the truce.

The UN says the truce has 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, while humanitarian needs have soared.

Details have emerged of the conditions of the detention of some hostages. Local media has reported shortages of food and medicine, and cramped accommodation possibly underground, but no physical mistreatment. According to one report, a former hostage has told his friends that his captors had brought other children to play with him while he was in captivity. Some learned of the fate of relatives from Hebrew-language radio networks they could listen to. Two teenagers learned that their mother had been killed and their father remained missing only when released.

Calls from the hostages’ families to prioritise their release have sharpened the dilemma facing Israel’s leaders as they seek to reconcile the military offensive with the goal of freeing all of the captives.

“We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” two relatives of Abigail Edan, a four-year-old dual Israeli-American citizen who witnessed her parents being killed on 7 October and was released on Sunday, said in a statement.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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