Hamas frees 17 more hostages under ceasefire deal

26 November 2023, 21:14

Israel Palestinians
Israel Palestinians. Picture: PA

Those freed included 14 Israelis and three foreign nationals.

Hamas militants have freed 17 more hostages, including 14 Israelis and three foreign nationals, in a third set of releases under a ceasefire deal.

Red Cross representatives transferred the hostages out of Gaza late on Sunday. Some were handed over directly to Israel while others left through Egypt.

The army said one of the hostages was airlifted directly to an Israeli hospital, and the director of Soroka Medical Centre said Elma Avraham, 84, was in a life-threatening condition as “a result of an extended period of time when an elderly woman was not taken care of as needed”.

Israel Palestinians
Avigail Edan was among those released (Hostages and Missing Families Forum headquarters via AP)

It was the third consecutive day in which Hamas released Israeli hostages being held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

The youngest hostage released was Abigail Edan, a four-year-old girl and dual Israeli-American citizen whose parents were killed in the Hamas attack that started the war on October 7.

“What she endured was unthinkable,” President Joe Biden said of the first American freed, adding he did not know Abigail’s condition but could confirm she was safely in Israel.

He did not have updates on other American hostages and said it was his goal to extend the ceasefire deal as long as possible.

In all, nine children aged 17 and younger were on the list, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Israel Palestinians
Dafna Elyakim, 15, has been released (Hostages and Missing Families Forum headquarters via AP)

Separately, Hamas said it had released one of the Russian hostages it was holding “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and as a show of appreciation for Moscow’s position on the war. Israeli army radio had reported that it was an Israeli-Russian dual national.

Later, more than three dozen Palestinian prisoners returned to a heroes’ welcome in the West Bank after being released by Israel.

The 39 young men, wearing grey prison uniforms, were welcomed by several hundred well-wishers in central Ramallah. The crowd hoisted the men on their shoulders while many waved victory signs and held green Hamas flags.

A fourth exchange is expected on Monday — the last day of the ceasefire during which a total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are to be freed.

International mediators led by the US and Qatar are trying to extend the ceasefire.

Ahead of the latest release, Mr Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, where he spoke to troops.

“We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return every one,” he said, adding: “We are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.”

Israel Palestinians
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Handout via AP)

In a separate development, Hamas announced that one of its top commanders had been killed, without saying when or how.

The ceasefire agreement has brought the first significant pause in seven weeks of war, marked by the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades and vast destruction and displacement across the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and other militant groups seized around 240 people during the rampage across southern Israel that ignited the war.

Pressure from hostages’ families has sharpened the dilemma facing Israel’s leaders, who seek to eliminate Hamas as a military and governing power while returning all the captives.

The war has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, roughly two thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The ceasefire, which began on Friday, was brokered by Qatar and Egypt and the United States. Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed, but has vowed to quickly resume its offensive once it ends.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians visit their homes destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip (Adel Hana/AP)

Hamas announced the death of Ahmed al-Ghandour, who was in charge of northern Gaza and a member of its top military council. He is the highest-ranking militant known to have been killed in the fighting.

Mr Al-Ghandour, believed to have been around 56 years old, had survived at least three Israeli attempts on his life and was involved in a cross-border attack in 2006 in which Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier, according to the Counter Extremism Project, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Hamas said that he was killed along with three other senior militants, including Ayman Siam, who Israel says was in charge of Hamas’ rocket-firing unit.

The Israeli military mentioned both men in a November 16 statement, saying it had targeted an underground complex where Hamas leaders were hiding.

The Israeli military claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence, including several mid-ranking commanders it has identified by name.

By Press Association

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