Israel, Hamas Agree to Extend Truce for 2 More Days, Free More Hostages and Prisoners

Palestinians gather as they wait to receive flour bags distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 27, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians gather as they wait to receive flour bags distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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Israel, Hamas Agree to Extend Truce for 2 More Days, Free More Hostages and Prisoners

Palestinians gather as they wait to receive flour bags distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 27, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians gather as they wait to receive flour bags distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 27, 2023. (Reuters)

Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their ceasefire for two more days past Monday, the Qatari government said, bringing the prospect of a longer halt to their deadliest and most destructive war and further exchanges of militant-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The announcement, made by Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majid Al Ansary in a post on X, came on the final day of the original four-day truce between the warring sides. A fourth swap of hostages for prisoners under that deal was expected later Monday. Qatar, along with the United States and Egypt, has been the key mediator in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Israel has said it would extend the ceasefire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. After the Qatari announcement, Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a two-day extension “under the same terms.”

But Israel says it remains committed to crushing Hamas' military capabilities and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza after its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. That would likely mean expanding a ground offensive from devastated northern Gaza to the south, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have crammed into United Nations shelters, and where dire conditions persist despite the increased delivery of aid under the truce.

Israel will resume its operations with “full force” as soon as the current deal expires if Hamas does not agree to further hostage releases, with the goal of eliminating the group and freeing the rest of the captives, government spokesperson Eylon Levy told reporters on Monday.

So far, 58 hostages have been released during the current truce, including 39 Israelis. Before the truce, four hostages were freed, another rescued and two were found dead inside Gaza.

After weeks of national trauma over the around 240 people abducted by Hamas and other militants, scenes of the women and children reuniting with families have rallied Israelis behind calls to return those who remain in captivity.

“We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” two relatives of Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl and dual Israeli-American citizen who was released Sunday, said in a statement.

Hamas and other militants could still be holding up to 175 hostages, enough to potentially extend the ceasefire for two and a half weeks. But those include a number of soldiers, and the militants are likely to make much greater demands for their release.

A THIRD RELEASE OF HOSTAGES AND PRISONERS On Sunday, Hamas freed 17 hostages, including 14 Israelis, and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners — the third such exchange under the truce.

Most hostages appeared to be physically well, but 84-year-old Elma Avraham was airlifted to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in life-threatening condition because of inadequate care, the hospital said.

Avraham’s daughter, Tali Amano, said her mother was “hours from death” when she was brought to the hospital. Avraham is currently sedated and has a breathing tube, but Amano said she told her of a new great grandchild who was born while she was in captivity.

Avraham suffered from several chronic conditions that required regular medications but was stable before she was kidnapped, Amano said Monday.

So far, 19 people of other nationalities have been freed during the truce, mostly Thai nationals. Many Thais work in Israel, largely as farm laborers.

The Palestinian prisoners released were mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces, or of less-serious offenses. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.

The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye, but details of their captivity have started to trickle out.

Merav Raviv, whose three relatives were released Friday, said they had been fed irregularly and lost weight. One reported eating mainly bread and rice and sleeping on a makeshift bed of chairs pushed together. Hostages sometimes had to wait for hours to use the bathroom, she said.

RESPITE IN GAZA More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.

The calm from the truce allowed glimpses of the destruction wreaked by weeks of Israeli bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods.

Footage showed a complex of several dozen multi-story residential buildings that had been pummeled into a landscape of wreckage in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Nearly every building was destroyed or severely damaged, some reduced to concrete frames half-slumped over. At a nearby UN school, the buildings were intact but partially burned and riddled with holes.

The Israeli assault has driven three-quarters of Gaza’s population from their homes, and now most of its 2.3 million people are crowded into the south. More than 1 million are living in UN shelters. The Israeli military has barred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from returning north.

Rain and wind added to the hardship of displaced Palestinians sheltering in the compound of Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza. Palestinians in coats baked flatbreads over a makeshift fire among tents set up on the muddy grounds.

Alaa Mansour said the conditions are simply horrendous.

“My clothes are all wet and I am unable to change them.” said Mansour, who is disabled. “I have not drunk water for two days, and there’s no bathroom to use.”

The UN says the truce 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, even as humanitarian needs have soared.

Long lines formed outside stations distributing cooking fuel, allowed in for the first time. Fuel for generators has been brought for key service providers, including hospitals, water and sanitation facilities, but bakeries have been unable to resume work, the UN said.

Iyad Ghafary, a vendor in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, said many families were still unable to retrieve the dead from under the rubble left by Israeli airstrikes, and that local authorities weren’t equipped to deal with the level of destruction.

Many say the aid is not nearly enough.

Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who fled northern Gaza, said she had only managed to get one canned meal from a UN distribution center since the ceasefire began.

She said the crowds have overwhelmed local markets and gas stations as people try to stock up on basics. “People were desperate and went out to buy whenever they could,” she said. “They are extremely worried that the war will return.”



Israel Strikes Gaza, Yemen, Lebanon Foes after Attacks

Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
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Israel Strikes Gaza, Yemen, Lebanon Foes after Attacks

Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

The Middle East was reeling Sunday from deadly violence with Israel bombing Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen in quick succession in response to attacks from Iran-backed militant groups.
Despite Washington's top diplomat asserting a deal is near the "goal line" to end more than nine months of devastating war between Israel and Gaza rulers Hamas, the Israeli military said it intercepted a missile fired from Yemen, as it pressed on with its offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory, Agence France Presse reported.
Dozens have been killed since Saturday across the Gaza Strip, the civil defense agency said, including in strikes on homes in the central Nuseirat and Bureij areas and displaced people near southern Khan Yunis.
Residents said a major operation was underway in the district of Rafah in the south, reporting heavy artillery and clashes.
The deadly strikes in Gaza came hours after Hezbollah and its ally Hamas said they fired at Israeli positions from south Lebanon, while Yemen's Houthi group vowed to respond to Israeli warplanes hitting a key port.
The fire left raging by the strikes on Hodeida port "is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Detailing the first strikes claimed by Israel in Yemen, Gallant warned of further operations if the Houthis "dare to attack us" after a Houthi drone strike killed one in Tel Aviv on Friday.
In Hodeida three people were killed and 87 wounded, health officials said in a statement carried by Houthi media.
Netanyahu travels to Washington
The trio of militant groups has vowed to keep up attacks on Israel until a truce ends the violence in Gaza, which lies in ruins, with most residents forced to flee their homes.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's military retaliation to wipe out Hamas has killed at least 38,919 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The war has also unleashed hunger and health crises in Gaza, with Israel and the United Nations trading blame for vital aid supplies failing to reach those in need.
After the detection of poliovirus in Gaza sewage, though no individual cases, the World Health Organization said there were "monumental" constraints to mounting a timely response.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday the agency believes many more diseases are "spreading out of control" inside Gaza.
The premier is due to address US lawmakers Wednesday in Washington, where he will be under pressure to reach a ceasefire with Hamas.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday a truce was within reach.
"I believe we're... driving toward the goal line in getting an agreement that would produce a ceasefire, get the hostages home, and put us on a better track to trying to build lasting peace and stability," he said.