Israel and Hamas agree to extend Gaza truce for two more days as 11 new hostages released

President Joe Biden thanks Israel and mediators Qatar and Egypt for the 48-hour extension

Bel Trew
Monday 27 November 2023 22:20 GMT
Moment 11 Hamas hostages appear to cross into Israel

Israel and Hamas have agreed to extend a ceasefire for two more days – in a breakthrough that could see dozens of additional hostages released and more lifesaving aid flow into war-ravaged Gaza.

The decision offers a rare glimmer of hope of a possible end to the conflict that has caused “unparalleled and unprecedented” bloodshed, according to the United Nations.

The announcement was made by Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari on the final day of the original four-day truce between Israel and Hamas. He said the extension – mediated by Qatar – would allow additional aid to the Gaza Strip, “release the largest possible number of hostages and prisoners”, and would hopefully lead to a permanent ceasefire. After the Qatari announcement, Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a two-day extension “under the same terms”.

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel was “managing a deal through mediators”. Israel has said before it would extend the ceasefire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. US president Joe Biden said in a statement that he wished to thank representatives from Israel, Qatar and Egypt for “reaching the agreement for an extension over the next 48 hours”. “We are taking full advantage of the pause in fighting to increase the amount of humanitarian aid moving into Gaza, and we will continue our efforts to build a future of peace and dignity for the Palestinian people,” he added.

The extended deal came hours before 11 Israelis hostages - including nine children, the youngest twins aged just three years old - were released on Monday. The US, who had hoped the group would include some citizens, said just before the names were released that they did not believe any Americans were in the this group.

Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the group included three French citizens, two Germans and six Argentinians. Families of hostages said that all 11 releases were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

A Red Cross convoy carrying Israeli hostages
A Red Cross convoy carrying Israeli hostages (AP)

Video footage showed Israeli mother Hadas Calderon shrieking with joy and jumping on a chair as she was informed her children, 16-year-old Sahar and 12-year-old Erez, were in Monday’s group of releases. Their father Ofer remains in captivity and their grandmother Carmela was killed on 7 October.

Also on the list were twin daughters Emma and Yuli, who, aged just three, were Monday’s youngest releases. Their mother Sharon Aloni Cunio, 34, was released with them. Her husband David and brother Ariel remain in captivity.

Sharon Aloni-Cunio, 34, Yuli Cunio, 3, and Emma Cunio, 3
Sharon Aloni-Cunio, 34, Yuli Cunio, 3, and Emma Cunio, 3 (via REUTERS)

Siblings Or Yaakov, 16, and Yogi, 12 were also released, while their father Yair remains in captivity.

Carina Angelbert, 54 who had recently recovered from breast cancer, was released with her children Mika, 18, and 11-year-old Yuval - the father Ronen is still a Hamas captive. Meanwhile, Eitan Yahalomi, 12 was released on his own - his father Ohad, who was kidnaped with him, remains in Gaza.

Out of the remaining hostages who are still in Gaza, 49 are from Kibbutz Nir Oz, said the head of the kibbutz Osnat Peri. Among them are women, men, children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers. “The news this evening brings a sigh of relief to our community, however we remain deeply concerned about our loved ones that are still held hostage. We demand the return of all hostages, immediately, whatever it takes,” Peri added.

Hostages Emma Cunio, 3, and Yuli Cunio, 3, who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack
Hostages Emma Cunio, 3, and Yuli Cunio, 3, who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack (via REUTERS)

Egypt said the extended ceasefire would include the release of 20 Israeli hostages from those seized by Hamas during its attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which at least 1,200 were killed and 240 people taken captive into Gaza. In exchange, 60 Palestinians held in Israeli jails would be freed. The initial four-day truce was due to end on Monday night with a fourth hostage and prisoner exchange – amid fraught eleventh-hour negotiations and accusations from both Israel and Hamas that the other side was “tampering” with the names on the lists. Israel accused Hamas of separating children from their mothers in a “gross violation” of the agreement.

Palestinian officials told The Independent that several women detainees who were meant to be released had not appeared on their lists. Hamas had previously reported that not enough aid, being brought from Egypt into southern Gaza, was being permitted to reach the north of the destroyed enclave during the truce.

As news of the extended truce emerged, Hamas said it had received a list of Palestinians to be released by Israel, which it said included three female prisoners and 30 minors.

Families of those held hostage in Gaza expressed their relief at the news of the deal extension, as it may see a wider category of people included. So far the truce has only involved the youngest children – including four-year-old US-Israeli Avigail Idan and nine-year-old Irish citizen Emily Hand, as well as their mothers and the most vulnerable elderly women. A number of Thai and Filipino nationals, plus one Israeli-Russian man have been released in addition to the core agreement.

Nadav Rudaeff, whose father Lior is not eligible for release currently as a 61-year-old man, said the family “call for the government to extend the truce until all hostages are released”. “My family and I are holding up and trying to do our best to keep our hopes up,” he said, adding that his father has a major heart complaint that needs daily medicine to keep him alive. “We hope the further releases will be fruitful in releasing also young and adult women, men and elderly people, especially those in need of medical assistance, such as my father.”

Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel, 39, was abducted on 7 October but has not been included in the releases yet, told The Independent the past few days have shown what “the Israeli public wants”, adding: “That is that bringing back hostages is the main goal of Israel.” He said the past few days have been “nerve-wracking for us”. “We had to sit every night and wait for the list of hostages to be released,” he said. “We will not sit silent, and we’ll keep on working together even after our own family members are back – until all 240 hostages are back home.”

Elma Avraham, 84, is one of the hostages who have been released in recent days, but is in critical condition in hospital. Ms Avraham’s daughter told reporters her mother arrived with a pulse of 40 and a body temperature of 28 degrees. The deputy administrator of Soroka hospital in Beersheba said her condition remains critical and she is ventilated and sedated in the intensive care unit. “They [Hamas] held her in terrible conditions,” Tali Amano told reporters outside the hospital. “My mother arrived hours before we would have lost her.”

In Gaza, civilians talked about the truce being an “essential breath of air” after weeks under one of Israel’s most ferocious bombardments. They said it was essential it held so they could get a proper delivery of aid to the besieged strip where medical supplies, food and water are still running low. One young man called Ahmed, who asked for his identity to be protected, told The Independent they were “still surviving” but that they badly need more shipments of gas and fuel. “The days are not enough to get to the basic needs,” he added, sharing a photo of a UN school where the playground was full of tents housing the displaced.

Other families The Independent has spoken to over the past few days of calm said they had been able to travel around the besieged Strip to find out the fate of missing relatives. One 21-year-old said they found out about the death of a relative in the north. “We’re praying the truce holds,” she said. “The news of the deaths is unbearable.” In Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian National Initiative leader and a member of the Palestinian legislative council, told The Independent the need for a continuing ceasefire was essential to halting an even larger humanitarian disaster there. “We have already 6,500 children and more than 14,500 in total killed. If you add the numbers of people believed to still be trapped under the rubble you’re talking about 22,000 people killed, 9,000 are them are children,” he said.

Citing United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres, he said the death toll of Palestinian children in Gaza was larger “than the number of children killed over the world’s conflicts during the last few years”. “How many more thousands should die?” Mr Barghouti asked.

Mr Guterres welcomed the extended truce on Monday as “a glimpse of hope and humanity” but warned it was not enough time to meet the aid needs of the Gaza Strip. “I strongly hope that this will enable us to increase even more the humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza that [are] suffering so much – knowing that even with that additional amount of time, it will be impossible to satisfy all the dramatic needs of the population,” Mr Guterres told reporters.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly said that however long the truce is, it is temporary, and Israel remains committed to crushing Hamas’s military capabilities and ending its 16-year rule over the besieged Strip. Visiting Gaza on Sunday, the premier once again repeated: “We are continuing until the end – until victory. Nothing will stop us.” This was echoed by Eylon Levy, a government spokesperson, who said on Monday Israel will resume its operations with “full force” as soon as the current deal expires.

Israeli military officials have told The Independent this could include expanding a devastating ground offensive from northern Gaza, where Israeli forces have encircled refugee camps and hospitals, into the south. Defence minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday the coming operation would be bigger and take place throughout Gaza. The military was preparing “for a return to high-intensity combat”, he said.

There are concerns an offensive south would be devastating for civilians. More than a million displaced Palestinians are crammed into makeshift shelters in the south, where dire conditions persist despite the increased delivery of aid under the truce.

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