- Israeli PM’s office says discussions underway over list of fourth roster of hostages up for release
JERUSALEM — U.S. President Joe Biden said he hoped the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas can go on as long as hostages are being released after the militant group freed 17 more people, including a 4-year-old Israeli-American girl.
Hamas said it wanted to extend the pause in fighting, which will enter its fourth and final agreed day on Monday. Israel has previously offered to agree to an additional day for each additional 10 hostages freed, and to release three times the number of Palestinian prisoners each time.
Thirty-nine teenage Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel on Sunday, taking the total since the truce began to 117.
Hamas said it had handed over 13 Israelis, three Thais and one with Russian citizenship, and the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it had successfully transferred them from Gaza on Sunday.
Biden said the 4-year-old hostage, Abigail Edan, had witnessed her parents being killed by Hamas fighters during their Oct. 7 rampage into Israel and had been held since then.
“What she endured is unthinkable,” Biden said at a news conference in the United States.
Abigail was on her way to the hospital for checks, Israel’s Channel 13 said. Her grandfather, Carmel Edan, told Reuters he “simply could not believe” she had been returned, thanking Biden “for all the help he’s offered us.”
Israel said on Monday it had received what could be the final list of hostages slated for release. The list was being reviewed, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, adding that it would provide further information when possible.
Netanyahu said on Sunday he spoke to Biden about the hostage release, adding he would welcome extending the temporary truce if more hostages could be freed.
However, Netanyahu said that once the truce ends “we will return with full force to achieve our goals: The elimination of Hamas, ensuring that Gaza does not return to what it was; and of course the release of all our hostages.”
‘Can’t believe I’m free’
The four-day truce agreed last week is the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages back into Gaza.
In response to that attack, Israel has bombarded the enclave and mounted a ground offensive in the north. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Palestinians gave the freed prisoners a jubilant reception in Ramallah, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Omar Abdullah Al Hajj, 17, one of the detainees released on Sunday, told Reuters he’d been kept in the dark about what was happening in the outside world.
“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, who Israel’s Justice Ministry accused of belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group and posing an security threat which it did not specify.
The latest three Thai hostages released were in good health, Thailand’s prime minister said. Efforts to free the remaining 15 Thais would continue, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs added.
Sunday’s hostage release follows the liberation of 13 Israelis and four foreigners on Saturday. Hamas released 24 hostages on Friday, the first day of the truce. A Palestinian source has said up to 100 hostages could ultimately go free.
Qatar, Egypt and the United States are pressing for the truce to be extended but it is not clear whether that will happen.
Clashes and recriminations have threatened to torpedo the existing deal.
The killing of a Palestinian farmer in the central Gaza Strip had earlier added to those concerns. The farmer was shot by Israeli forces east of Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Violence has also flared in the West Bank, where Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians, including two minors and at least one gunman, late on Saturday and early Sunday, medics and local sources said.
The deal survived an earlier threat when Hamas’ armed wing said on Saturday it was delaying hostage releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to let aid trucks into northern Gaza.
Qatari diplomats are now on site in Gaza to supervise the entry and delivery of their country’s aid, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said.
A U.N. official who took part in a humanitarian convoy to northern Gaza said on Sunday aid groups were on track to deliver the biggest shipment in over a month, describing thin, gaunt residents slaking their thirst as soon as water arrived.
“People are so desperate and you can see in adults’ eyes they haven’t eaten,” the U.N. children’s agency’s James Elder told Reuters by video link from southern Gaza after returning from Gaza City.
Even as the aid deliveries flowed north, Elder said he saw hundreds of Gazans heading in the other direction, fearing the renewal of Israeli bombardments if the four-day truce is not prolonged.
“People are so terrified that this pause won’t be continued,” he said.
– Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Raphael Satter and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Diane Craft and Raju Gopalakrishnan and Miral Fahmy