A helicopter carrying Israeli hostages released by Hamas lands at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. Alamy Stock Photo

Israel and Hamas agree to a day-long extension to ceasefire as eight more hostages are released

The extension was agreed minutes before the original agreement was due to expire.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 30th 2023, 9:55 PM

HAMAS HAS RELEASED eight more hostages, with more Palestinian prisoners to be freed under an extended truce that has paused weeks of deadly conflict.

With the current truce set to expire early tomorrow, international bodies have called for a lasting halt to the violence, sparked by deadly Hamas attacks on Israel that prompted it to mount a devastating assault on the Gaza Strip.

Dual nationals from Uruguay, Mexico and Russia were among eight Israeli hostages released by Hamas on the seventh day of the Gaza truce, mediator Qatar said on Friday.

“The eight Israeli citizens being released today as part of the agreement include two minors and six women,” the Qatari foreign ministry said.

He said 30 Palestinians would be released from Israeli prisons, in exchange for a total of 10 hostages in Gaza, a tally which included “two Russian citizens who were released yesterday”.

The delicate truce held through its seventh day after a 24-hour extension despite a shooting claimed by Hamas militants that killed three people in Jerusalem.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seek a longer pause that would allow further prisoner-hostage exchanges and more aid for displaced civilians in Gaza.

Earlier, the Israeli military said at least two women hostages had been returned from Gaza after being released to the Red Cross by Hamas. This came before the release of an additional six people.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office named the two as French-Israeli dual national Mia Shem, 21, and Amit Soussana, 40.

France president Emmanuel Macron described the news as “great joy”.

Only hours after the truce extension, the Islamist militants claimed responsibility for a shooting in Jerusalem that killed three people and called for an “escalation of the resistance”.

The morning attack saw two gunmen from annexed east Jerusalem kill three people and wound eight others at a bus stop in the western part of the city, before two off-duty soldiers and civilians fired at them and “neutralised” them, police said.

Ten hostages per day

Separately, two Israeli soldiers were slightly injured in a ramming attack on a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank today, the army said, adding the assailant had also been “shot and neutralised”.

International bodies have called for more time to allow medical supplies, food and fuel into the besieged Gaza Strip after fierce combat and bombardments sparked by Hamas’s bloody 7 October attacks on Israel.

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The truce agreement allows for extensions if Hamas can continue to release 10 hostages per day, but both sides have warned they are ready to return to fighting.

Since the truce began on 24 November, 70 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners.

At least 24 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, have been freed outside the terms of the deal.

Israel says it sees the truce as a temporary halt intended to free hostages, but there are growing calls for a more sustained pause in fighting.

The hostage releases have brought joy tinged with agony, with families anxiously waiting each night to learn if their loved ones will be freed, and learning harrowing details from those who return.

Four-year-old Abigail was captured after crawling out from under the body of her father, killed by militants, covered in his blood, her great aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali said.

Before the truce Israeli ground and air forces had pounded Gaza, forcing an estimated 1.7 million people – around 80% of the Hamas-run territory’s population – to leave their homes and limiting the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel.

‘Everything is gone’

The truce has allowed some of the displaced to return to their homes, but for many there is little left.

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‘Everything is gone’

Conditions in Gaza remain “catastrophic” and the population faces a “high risk of famine”, according to the World Food Programme.

The truce has allowed some of the displaced to return to their homes, but for many there is little left.

“I discovered that my house had been completely destroyed – 27 years of my life to build it and everything is gone,” said Taghrid al-Najjar, 46, after returning to her home in southeastern Gaza.

The violence in Gaza has also raised tensions in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by either Israeli soldiers or settlers since 7 October, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

That figure exceeds the entire toll in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for all of last year when 235 people died, mostly Palestinians, an AFP tally showed.

© AFP 2023