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Palestinians flee south on the third day of the ceasefire at Salah al-Din road in central Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo
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Israel and Hamas agree two-day extension to Gaza truce as 11 more Israeli hostages freed

The pause that began Friday has seen dozens of hostages freed, including Irish-Israeli nine-year-old Emily Hand.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 27th 2023, 8:50 PM

A HUMANITARIAN PAUSE in fighting between Israel and Hamas will be extended by two days, mediator Qatar said today, as an initial four-day truce in Gaza was set to expire.

“The State of Qatar announces that, as part of the ongoing mediation, an agreement has been reached to extend the humanitarian truce for an additional two days in the Gaza Strip,” Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said on X, formerly Twitter.

Later, Qatar confirmed 11 Israeli hostages would be freed on the fourth day of the truce, among them three French, two German and six Argentinian dual nationals.

The Israeli military added: “Based on information that was received from the Red Cross, 11 hostages are currently on their way to Israeli territory.”

A total of 33 Palestinians in Israeli prisons – 30 minors and three women – were released, Ansari said.

a-group-of-israelis-watch-as-a-helicopter-carrying-hostages-released-from-the-gaza-strip-lands-at-the-helipad-of-the-schneider-childrens-medical-center-in-petah-tikva-israel-sunday-nov-26-2023-t A group of Israelis watch as a helicopter carrying hostages released from Gaza lands in Petah Tikva, Israel Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Over the course of the humanitarian pause and in weeks prior, Qatar, with the support of the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in intense negotiations to establish and prolong the truce in Gaza, which mediators had said was designed to be broadened and expanded.

Including the 11 hostages set to return home today, a total of 50 civilian hostages, women and children, were freed by Hamas during the initial truce.

In exchange, 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were released and humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza.

As a result of parallel negotiations led by the Gulf state, 17 Thais, one Filipino and one dual Russian-Israeli national have also been released by the Palestinian militants.

‘Glimpse of hope’ 

With just hours to go before the so-called “humanitarian pause” was to end early Tuesday, Hamas said that an agreement had been reached to prolong it by 48 hours under the existing terms.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Israeli side of the extension, which was nevertheless hailed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a glimpse of hope and humanity in the middle of the darkness of war”.

Qatar – with the support of the United States and Egypt – has been engaged in intense negotiations to establish and prolong the truce in Gaza.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari announced that “an agreement has been reached to extend the humanitarian truce for an additional two days in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas, which runs Gaza and triggered the latest round of fighting by launching a bloody cross-border raid last month, said it was drawing up a new list of hostages for release.

Meanwhile, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it had informed families of the identities of hostages to be released today, the last day of the initial four-day truce.

Israel has been clear that the pause is designed to allow Hamas to free more of the hostages it is holding since the 7 October attack, which killed 1,200 Israelis including many women and children, according to Israeli officials.

But both sides are under pressure to build on the break in hostilities to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza, where Israel’s campaign against Hamas has left almost 15,000 dead, mostly Palestinian civilians, according to Gaza’s Hamas government.

The Qatari announcement came after US President Joe Biden, top EU envoy Josep Borrell and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg all joined a global chorus urging the parties to extend their temporary break in fighting.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin also voiced his support for an extension to the truce.

In a statement today he appealed to “all parties to build on the important steps that have been taken and extend and expand this truce”.

He added that Ireland has “repeatedly called for a sustainable humanitarian ceasefire to be established” and that “Gaza’s civilian population cannot be allowed to suffer any further”.

Martin also said he was “delighted and relieved by the release of Emily Hand” and added that “it is our sincere hope that all remaining hostages will soon also be reunited with their friends and families”.

As part of the truce deal, Hamas has so far released 39 Israeli hostages, including Emily Hand, the nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl who had been held hostage in Gaza since the 7 October attacks. She was released on Saturday night

in-this-photo-provided-by-the-israeli-army-emily-hand-a-released-hostage-reunites-with-her-father-sunday-nov-26-2023-in-israel-the-tense-cease-fire-between-israel-and-hamas-appeared-to-be-back Emily Hand reunites with her father Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Public health ‘catastrophe’

Israel has freed 117 Palestinian prisoners under the terms of the agreement.

In parallel, 19 foreign nationals have also been released by Palestinian militants.

Tearful reunions of families and hostages have brought relief from images of civilian death and suffering in the seven-week war.

“That’s our goal, to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief in to those in need,” Biden said Sunday.

The White House welcomed the agreement to extend the truce.

“We would of course hope to see the pause extended further, and that will depend upon Hamas continuing to release hostages,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Kirby said that “in order to extend the pause, Hamas has committed to releasing another 20 women and children.”

The EU’s Borrell had called for the pause to be prolonged “to make it sustainable and long lasting while working for a political solution.”

“Nothing can justify the indiscriminate brutality Hamas unleashed against civilians,” he said. “But one horror cannot justify another horror.”

Three successive days of hostage releases have buoyed spirits in Israel, with tearful reunions weeks after Hamas militants poured across the border on 7 October.

The third group of hostages released Sunday included a four-year-old American citizen called Abigail whose parents were both killed in the Hamas attacks.

Inside Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry complained that, despite the four-day pause, no fuel had been taken to generators in hospitals in the north of the Gaza Strip.

And Yahya al-Siraj, the mayor of Gaza City, complained that without fuel the territory could not pump clean water nor clear waste accumulating in the streets, warning of a potential public health “catastrophe”.

A French warship arrived in the Egyptian town of El-Arish near the border with Gaza to serve as a hospital for wounded civilians, a port source said.

Fight ‘until victory’

Israel has faced mounting pressure to extend the pause mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, though its leaders have dismissed any suggestions of a lasting halt to the offensive.

“We continue until the end — until victory,” Netanyahu said in Gaza on Sunday, on the first visit by an Israeli premier since 2005.

His office has proposed a war budget of 30 billion shekels ($8 billion) for 90 days.

Wearing military fatigues and surrounded by soldiers, Netanyahu vowed to free all the hostages and “eliminate Hamas”, in footage posted online by his office.

israels-prime-minister-benjamin-netanyahu-centre-speaks-to-soldiers-as-he-visits-the-gaza-strip-where-he-received-security-briefings-with-commanders-and-soldiers-and-visited-one-of-the-tunnels-tha Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, speaks to soldiers as he visits the Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In another sign of mounting international concern, UN rights experts called Monday for independent investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out in Israel and the Palestinian territories since October 7.

Morris Tidball-Binz, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteur on torture, issued a joint statement stressing the need for “prompt, transparent and independent investigations”.

© AFP 2023 with reporting by Hayley Halpin