Hamas Releases Hostages in Fragile Ceasefire; Netanyahu Visits Gaza Amid Ongoing Conflict

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A Red Cross vehicle, as part of a convoy believed to be carrying hostages abducted by Hamas militants during the October 7 attack on Israel, arrives at the Rafah border, amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip November 26, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

In a significant development amid the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the militant group released 17 more hostages, including 14 Israelis, an American, and individuals from Thailand and Russia, on the third day of the truce. This gesture is part of a broader exchange agreement, promising a temporary respite in what has been described as the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades.

Ceasefire in Effect, Hostages Freed

According to reports, the hostages, varying in ages from 4 to 84, were transferred out of Gaza through different channels. Some were handed directly to Israel, others left through Egypt, and one was airlifted to an Israeli hospital. Notably among them is Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old American-Israeli girl, whose ordeal captured global attention. President Joe Biden, addressing the situation, described her experience as “unthinkable,” emphasizing the need to extend the ceasefire for as long as possible.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Gaza and met with troops, reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to bringing back every hostage. “We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return every one,” he stated. Netanyahu’s visit marked the first significant Israeli presence in Gaza since the onset of the conflict.

Palestinians spend time on a beach during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip November 25, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Shana

Truce Brings Temporary Calm

The ceasefire, brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States, started on Friday and is set to end on Monday. It has been instrumental in facilitating the exchange of hostages and prisoners, with Israel agreeing to release 39 Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal. The truce also offers a much-needed pause in the seven-week war, which has led to vast destruction and displacement, particularly in Gaza.

Casualties and Continued Tensions

The war has had a devastating toll, with over 1,200 Israeli and 13,300 Palestinian casualties, including a significant number of women and minors. Amid these developments, Hamas announced the death of Ahmed al-Ghandour, a top commander, confirming the ongoing volatility of the situation.

International Efforts to Extend the Truce

With international mediators led by the U.S. and Qatar striving to extend the ceasefire, there’s a glimmer of hope for a more extended period of peace. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan indicated the U.S. is working with all sides to potentially extend the deal to include more hostages.

Hila Rotem Shoshani, a released hostage, reunites with her uncle on Sunday in Israel after being freed from Hamas militants in Gaza the previous day. (Israeli Army/The Associated Press)

Reaction from the Public and Hostage Families

The release of hostages and prisoners has elicited varied reactions. In Israel, families of hostages have expressed relief and joy, while in the West Bank, released Palestinian detainees received a hero’s welcome. However, the plight of those still in captivity remains a source of anguish.

War Impact and International Response

The ceasefire has briefly silenced the artillery, allowing Gazans to return to the streets and assess the damage. However, Israeli military restrictions continue to impede movement, particularly in northern areas. The international community, notably the United Nations, has ramped up humanitarian efforts, providing food, water, medicine, and fuel.