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More Hamas hostages released from inside Gaza – with Palestinians also freed

Latest exchange comes after shooting in Jerusalem – claimed by Hamas – that killed three. One of those wounded says he feels ‘lucky’ to be alive

Tom Bennett
Friday 01 December 2023 00:58 GMT
Hamas Hands Over More Hostages in Gaza

Eight Israeli hostages have been released from inside Gaza after a last-minute extension to the truce deal between Israel and Hamas. Israel also freed 30 Palestinian detainees, eight women and 22 children, who were not named.

Tel Aviv named two of those released by Hamas: 21-year-old Mia Schem, who also holds French citizenship, and 40-year-old Amit Soussana. Four of the eight freed were women aged 29 to 41 including one Mexican-Israeli dual national. The other two were a brother and sister, Belal and Aisha al-Ziadna, aged 18 and 17 respectively, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office. They are Bedouin Arab citizens of Israel and among four members of their family taken hostage while they were milking cows on a farm.

Ms Schem appeared in the first hostage video released by Hamas saying that she had been abducted from the Supernova festival during the attack on 7 October. Her father David told Israel’s Channel 12 TV, that when they meet, he will not ask his daughter much. “I don’t want to ask her questions, because I don’t know what she endured.”

The truce between Israel and Hamas started at four days, but has been extended since as long as 10 hostages are released each day. Israel’s army said the Red Cross transferred six hostages to Egypt late on Thursday. They arrived hours after two additional hostages were turned over to Israel separately.

The truce also gives residents of Gaza relief from a campaign of airstrikes and ground operations that started in the wake of the Hamas attack, as well as allowing more aid into the besieged territory. A blockade of the strip has accompanied Israel's military operations, leaving essentials like food, water, fuel and medical supplies running low. Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza say that around 14,000 people have been killed in the bombardment, with others still buried under the rubble of collapsed homes.

However, the truce is fragile – particularly while it is being extended essentially day-to-day, and a shooting in Jerusalem on Thursday will have done little to ease tensions. At least three people died in the attack, which has been claimed by Hamas. Six others are currently being treated in hospital, some in serious condition, according to local authorities.

Mia Schem is handed over to the Red Cross by Hamas in Gaza City yesterday (AFP)
An open-air market among the ruins of houses and buildings destroyed in Israeli strikes, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip (Reuters)

At 0740 local time [0540 GMT] on Thursday, Avidan Spanier was sitting at a bus stop reading verses from an open copy of the Torah when two gunmen – armed with an M16 rifle and a handgun – leapt from a vehicle to his right and begun spraying bullets towards Spanier and the group of civilians stood nearby.

Speaking from his hospital bed in Jerusalem shortly after waking from surgery, Spanier told The Independent he is “lucky” to be alive.

As Mr Spanier, 52, turned and ran from the scene, he was shot in the back of his thigh. “He was lucky,” said Rami Mosheiff, head of the Orthopaedic Surgery Department at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, Jerusalem, who had just finished operating on Mr Spanier. “We went with him to the operating room and we were able to reduce the fracture, which is not easy”, he said.

Spanier’s mother Mina held up the blood-stained trousers through which the bullet entered and exited his leg. “We believe that the fact Avidan was praying helped him to survive,” she said. Mina, who lives in Tel Aviv, first heard what had happened when Avidan rang her from the back of the ambulance. For Avidan, his plans now are “to get healthy, and to get back to life”.

Akiva Schwartz, 17, recovers from treatment at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem (Tom Bennett)

Akiva Schwartz, 17, was also at the bus stop, playing chess on his phone when he heard “the popping sounds of gunfire”.

Speaking from his hospital bed, surrounded by family and loved ones, he said he “grabbed [his] bag and ran” from the scene, but soon realised “he couldn’t feel parts of his foot”. It's believed Akiva was hit in the ankle by shrapnel from the gunfight. On Thursday afternoon he underwent treatment on the injury.

Akiva’s mother, Miriam Schwartz, 50, found out about the attack after receiving a call from Akiva telling her he’d been shot. “I rushed to the site and they had closed off the streets. And I didn't know what I was going to do. I panicked”. She was later told Akiva had been taken to hospital, where she later found him. “I am very grateful that he is okay,” she said.

Almost exactly one year ago, Akiva was stood at the very same bus stop during a bomb attack that killed two people. He escaped unhurt on that occasion.

In the shooting on Thursday, the two attackers, which Israel said were brothers from a neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem, were killed. Hamas claimed responsibility, casting it as retaliation for the killing of women and children in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Scores of Palestnians, including about 60 children, have been shot dead in the West Bank alone since 7 October.

The deceased victims of the attack have been named as Livia Dickman, 24, Elimelech Wasserman, 73, and Hannah Ifergan, who was in her 60s.

The Israeli security minister, the far-right Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the scene. “This type of incident proves again how much we can’t show weakness, how much we have to speak to Hamas only through intentions, only through the war,” he said.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials on his third visit to the region since the start of the war, said he hoped the ceasefire could be extended and more hostages could be released.

“This process is producing results. It’s important, and we hope that it can continue,” he said.

Mr Blinken earlier met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, and told him the US was committed to taking “tangible steps to advance” a Palestinian state.

Mr Blinken “condemned extremist violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank” and said he would continue to insist on full accountability for those responsible.

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