Israel has received a list of hostages to be freed from Gaza on Saturday by Hamas, officials said, following the release of 24 hostages the previous day, the first of a planned four-day truce.
Israeli security officials were reviewing the list, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, after his government’s vow to work for the release of all hostages taken by Hamas in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Reuters reported.
The pause in the fighting was the first such break, with both sides saying hostilities would resume as soon as the truce ends. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed hope the pause could be extended, however.
The released hostages, including Israeli women and children and Thai farm workers, were transferred from Gaza and handed to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing, along with eight staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross in a four-car convoy, the organisation said.
They were then taken to Israel for medical checks and re-unions with relatives.
Qatar, which acted as mediator for the truce deal, said 13 Israelis had been released, some with dual nationality, as well as 10 Thais and a Philippine national – farm workers employed in southern Israel when they were seized.
Thirty-nine Palestinian women and children detainees were released from Israeli jails. The freed Israeli hostages included four children accompanied by four family members, and five elderly women.
Biden said there was a real chance of extending the truce, adding that the pause was a critical opportunity to get humanitarian aid into Gaza.
He declined to speculate how long the Israel-Hamas war would last. Asked at a press conference what his expectations were, he said Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas was legitimate but difficult.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said 196 trucks of humanitarian aid carried food, water and medical supplies through the Rafah crossing on Friday, the biggest such convoy into Gaza since Hamas’ assault on Israel and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of the territory.
About 1,759 trucks have entered the narrow enclave since Oct. 21, it added.
The families of the hostages expressed mixed emotions, fearing for those left behind, Reuters reported.
“I’m excited for the families who today are going to hug their loved ones,” Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer Shem Tov, 21, said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, although he was not among those released on Friday.
“I am jealous. And I am sad. Mostly sad that Omer is still not coming home.”
Israeli tallies show Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people in the October attack and took about 240 hostages. Since then, Israel has rained bombs on the Hamas-ruled enclave, killing about 14,000 Gazans, roughly 40% of them children, Palestinian health authorities say.
Hundreds of thousands of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, including most of those in its northern half.
After initial medical checks, the released hostages were taken to be reunited with their families. Medical authorities said they appeared to be in good physical condition and were facing more evaluations.
Roni Haviv, a relative of Ohad Munder, said she was looking forward to giving the nine-year-old his favorite toy.
“I’m waiting to see Ohad and can’t wait to give him his Rubik’s Cube, which I know he really loved and he probably missed it so much, and that’s the first thing he takes everywhere he goes,” she said.
Those released on Friday were exchanged for 24 jailed Palestinian women and 15 teenagers. In at least three cases, before the prisoners were released, Israeli police raided their families’ homes in Jerusalem, witnesses said.
Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says
An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.
A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians, Reuters reported.
Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the “attack did not achieve its aims”.
The neighbourhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centres, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.
Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Iran’s semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike, read the report.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.
Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.
Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.
As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.
Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.
US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say
A U.S. military Mq-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Iran-backed militants, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the second time such a shoot down has taken place in recent months during a near daily tit-for-tat between the group and U.S. forces, Reuters reported.
The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, have carried out repeated drone and missile strikes since November in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait against commercial and military ships. U.S. and British forces have responded with multiple strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.
One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said initial information showed that the U.S. drone, made by General Atomics, was hit near Hodeidah on Monday. The official said information could change and did not say if the drone was in international airspace.
The second official said the drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile fired from near Hodeida.
The comments by the officials confirm a claim by the Houthis that they had shot down a drone near the port city, read the report.
In November, another Mq-9 was shot down by the Houthis and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.
The Houthi militants said on Monday they had attacked the Rubymar cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was at risk of sinking, raising the stakes in their campaign to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.
Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop, Reuters reported.
Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state
Israel on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood, and said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations, Reuters reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the “declaratory decision” to a vote in cabinet, which unanimously approved the measure, according to a statement.
Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly meeting that the move comes after “recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state.”
The war in Gaza that has raged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli communities is the latest in a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has rumbled on for seven decades and destabilised the Middle East.
Efforts to achieve a two-state solution – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel – have been stalled since 2014, read the report.
U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to clinch an even broader deal in the Middle East, that would include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.
The formal Israeli statement, according to Netanyahu’s office, reflects the fact that: “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”
“Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7th massacre will grant a huge, unprecedented reward to terrorism and prevent any future peace accord,” it said.
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