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Pressure mounting on Israel to extend Hamas hostage deal as it enters final 24 hours

Latest hostages released include US-Israeli Abigail Edan, four, while 39 Palestinians were also freed from Israeli prisons

Bel Trew,Chris Stevenson
Monday 27 November 2023 10:28 GMT
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Biden thankful after four-year-old American hostage released by Hamas

Pressure is growing on Israel to extend a ceasfire and hostage release deal to allow more captives to be freed from Gaza with less than 24 hours left of the four-day truce.

Qatar, Egypt and the US – who have all been heavily involved in mediating the deal have also said they are working to extend the truce, while Hamas signalled over the weekend that it is willing to prolong the deal beyond the final scheduled release of hostages on Monday.

Ruby Chen, father of Itay, 19, an Israeli-American soldier who is a hostage, said: “I think the public opinion of the Israeli people has been very focused about releasing the hostages – for the Israeli government this is the main topic that they will be judged upon. That is why they are talking about an extension to the ceasefire and the ability to get more hostages out.”Seventeen more hostages were freed on Sunday, including a four-year-old US-Israeli girl whose parents were among the 1,200 people killed in the Hamas attack inside southern Israel on 7 October. US president Joe Biden said that what Abigail Edan, who turned four while being held captive, had endured was “unthinkable”.

Israel has responded to the Hamas attack with a ferocious aerial and ground assault on Hamas-controlled Gaza in which Palestinian health officials say around 14,000 people have been killed, with the current four-day ceasefire the first respite from the bombardment for residents.

Abigail Edan, 4 , was one of the third group of hostages released by Hamas on Sunday (AP)

Ella Mor, Abigail’s aunt, said that the four-year old had landed safely in the hospital by helicopter and the family was “very emotional”. She said that she wanted to thank the whole country “for supporting, loving and embracing us and her”.

The ceasefire was agreed to enable the release of at least 50 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas into Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians - women and children - in Israeli prisons. This third group of hostages included 14 Israelis, Abigail among them, and three Thai nationals.

The Israelis were the Brodetz family: Hagar Brodetz (40), Ofri Brodetz (10), Yuval Brodetz (8) and Uriah Brodetz (4); the Goldstein-Almog family – Chen Goldstein Almog (48), Agam Goldstein Almog (17), Gal Goldstein Almog (11), Tal Goldstein Almog (8); and the Elykaim family: Dafna Elykaim (15) Ella Elykaim (8); Elma Avraham (84) and Aviva Adrian Siegel (62).

Elma Avraham, 84, is the oldest of the latest group to be freed (VIA REUTERS)

Ron Karibu, a 25-year-old Russian-Israeli citizen, was not released under the main truce deal, which involves women and children, but “in response to the efforts of Russian president Vladimir Putin”, Hamas said.

In a change of tack, several of the hostages were met in Gaza City and brought straight to Israel, rather than going through Egypt. Mr Biden said this was because hostage Elma Avraham, 85 was “very sick and was in need of immediate medical help” so had been transferred straight to Israel, rather than via crossing into Egypt, to allow her to go straight to hospital.

Of Abigail, he said: “Thank God she’s home... I wish I were there to hold her. “We will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones.

“Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is being taken for granted. But the proof that this is working and worth pursuing further is in every smile and every grateful tear we see on the faces of those families who are finally getting back together again. The proof is little Abigail,” the president added.

Sisters Dafna Elyakim, 15, was released alongside her younger sister Ela, eight (Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum headquarters)

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

In return, 39 Palestinians in Israeli prisons were released and would go home to Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. That is three prisoners for every Israeli hostage, excluding Mr Karibu.

Sunday’s list - shared with The Independent - included mostly teenage boys aged between 15- 19 , accused of public disorder, property damage and in some cases causing or threatening physical harm to Israeli officers by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

Among them was the family of Obada Khalil, who was 17 when he was arrested from his bed in a 3am raid last June. He was among several of the minors being held in administrative detention which means they can be held indefinitely without charge or trial - a practice rights say amounts to a war crime.

Moment 21-year-old hostage kidnapped from music festival reunites with family after release

Israel defends the use of administrative detention saying it is essential for security - on Israel’s list of the releases Obada is listed as having been arrested for damage to security issues.

His father Abu Ahmed told The Independent since Hamas’s attack on southern Israel on 7 October Obada had not been permitted prison visits or phone calls and they didn’t know what state he was in.

His mother Badriya, said: “I didn’t sleep at night until the list was published, we only found out an hour ago.”

There is the potential for the truce to be extended by a day for every 10 Israeli hostages Hamas release beyond the agreed 50. The militant group has signalled it is open to an extension in a statement on Sunday.

The Israeli army’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said it was open to extending the ceasefire if more hostages are released. Ahead of the latest hostages being freed, Mr Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip since the start of Israeli’s military campaign, where he spoke with troops. “At the end of the day we will return every one,” he said of the hostages.

President Joe Biden welcomed the release of the hostages (AP)

He added that the war – in which Israel has said it wished to crush Hamas – is not over. “Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the strength, the power, the will and the determination to achieve all the goals of the war, and that is what we will do,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday he told Mr Biden that Israel will resume its campaign in Gaza with full force once a temporary truce comes to an end.

However, Mr Netanyahu also said he would welcome extending the truce if it facilitated the release of ten additional hostages every day, as agreed under the original Qatari-brokered deal.

Families from the southern Israeli town of Kfar Aza embraced, cried, and applauded at the news that hostages from their town had arrived in Israel. More than 70 members of the kibbutz of around 700 people were killed and 18 were kidnapped.

In Gaza, people took advantage of the pause in Israeli airstrikes to queue for fuel. An Israeli blockade on top of the military action has left water, fuel food and medical supplies running severely short. Part of the current truce deal allows more aid to enter Gaza, but aid agencies say it is not as much as is desperately needed. The UN has confirmed that 129,000 litres of fuel crossed into Gaza on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today visited in the Gaza Strip, where he received security briefings with commanders and soldiers and visited one of the tunnels that has been found ( Avi Ohayon )

Elsewhere, Hamas announced the death of Ahmed al-Ghandour, who was in charge of northern Gaza – where Israel has been focusing its military campaign – and a member of its top military council. He is the highest-ranking militant known to have been killed in the fighting. Israel’s military confirmed the death.

Hamas said 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 statement earlier this month, saying it had targeted an underground complex where Hamas leaders were hiding.

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