Hamas released a third group of hostages, including a four-year-old American girl, on Sunday in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners on the third day of the truce, which a source close to Hamas said they were ready to extend.
The transfers under a four-day truce that began on Friday were the first relief for the families of the prisoners since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, triggering a devastating Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials said that 17 hostages returned to Israeli territory after the recent release. One of them, in her eighties, was admitted to hospital and said her life was in danger.
US President Joe Biden announced that among those released was a four-year-old American girl.
“She has suffered terrible trauma,” Biden said of Abigail, whose parents were killed by Hamas during the unprecedented attacks.
The 17 hostages, including three Thai citizens, were released outside the terms of the truce.
Hamas said Russian-Israeli Ron Krivoy was released “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and his “support for the Palestinian cause.”
Those released were among about 240 people captured on October 7 when Hamas fighters breached Gaza’s military border with Israel in the country’s deadliest attack.
Hamas activists killed about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners, according to Israeli authorities.
In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, most of them civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.
Sunday’s release brings the total number of Israelis released under the agreement to 39 since Friday.
On the other hand, 39 other Palestinian prisoners were released on Sunday, the Israeli Prison Service said, after 78 other Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons during the past two days.
On Friday, Hamas released ten other Thais and a Filipino in a surprise move separate from the main agreement.
The movement’s armed wing published a video clip on Sunday evening showing hostages entering and then exiting vehicles in the center of Gaza City, which was destroyed by the Israeli air and ground attack, where a crowd of people praised Hamas fighters.
Israel is facing increasing pressure to extend the truce brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told BFMTV on Sunday that “it would be good, useful and necessary” to extend the truce until all the hostages, including French citizens, are released.
Biden expressed a similar hope “so that we can continue to see more hostages released and more humanitarian aid pumped into those in need in Gaza.”
A source close to Hamas said that the movement is ready to prolong the truce.
The source told AFP, “Hamas informed the mediators that the resistance movements are ready to extend the current truce for two to four days.”
“The resistance believes that it is possible to secure the release of between 20 and 40 Israeli prisoners” during that period.
Under the truce, 50 hostages held by Hamas will be released over a period of four days in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners. There is a built-in mechanism that extends it if at least 10 Israeli prisoners are released each day.
But Israeli leaders have tempered hopes for a permanent halt to the attack.
“We are continuing until the end – until victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Gaza on Sunday.
Wearing a green military uniform and surrounded by soldiers, he pledged to release all hostages and “eliminate Hamas,” in footage posted online by his office.
His statements came during the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Gaza since 2005.
Netanyahu said: “Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the strength, power, will and determination to achieve all the goals of the war.”
In the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, residents received a text message from Israeli forces stating that they knew that there were hostages being held there.
“The army will neutralize anyone who kidnaps hostages,” the letter stated.
Elsewhere in Gaza, after weeks of bombardment, residents ventured back to search for piles of rubble where they once lived.
Osama Al-Bass said, as he inspected the ruins of his home in the Al-Zahraa area, south of Gaza City: “I came to see if there was anything left, and if there was anything I could save. We fled with nothing.”
“Everything is lost,” he said. “We’re tired. That’s enough. We can’t take it anymore.”
On the outskirts of Gaza City, families took to the road on foot, heading south, carrying their belongings and relatives in wheelchairs, carrying children in their arms.
Among the Israelis who were released on Sunday was Elma Avraham (84 years old), who was receiving treatment at the Soroka Medical Center, whose director, Shlomi Kodesh, said, “She is in a life-threatening condition,” but she is receiving treatment and will be transferred to the intensive care unit.
Sisters Ellie, eight, and sister Dafna, 15, whose father was shot during a Hamas attack, were also released.
Pictures from the government press office showed that in the previous round of releases, there were smiles, kisses and tears when Israeli hostage Sharon Avigdori, who was released with her daughter Noam (12 years old), embraced her son and relatives at Sheba Hospital.
On Sunday, in Ramallah and Beitunia in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, white buses belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered the liberated prisoners, while waiting crowds raised Hamas and Palestinian flags.
Prisoner Nourhan Awad, who was released on Saturday, said that when she got out of the police car, “it was a great moment. Freedom is priceless.”
The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas movement, announced on Sunday the killing of the commander of the Northern Brigade, Ahmed al-Ghandour, and four other senior commanders, without specifying when.
The cessation of fighting allowed more aid to reach Palestinians who are struggling to survive in light of the shortage of water and other necessities, but Adnan Abu Hasna, spokesman for the United Nations Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), warned of “unprecedented” humanitarian needs.
“We must send 200 trucks daily continuously for at least two months,” he said.
The United Nations estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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