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More Israeli hostages expected to be freed after Gaza truce extended

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2023)

An Israel-Hamas truce in the Gaza Strip stretched into a fifth day on Tuesday as the two sides completed the release of Israeli hostages and detained Palestinians and looked poised to free more as the pause in fighting was extended by two days.

Hamas took about 240 hostages during an Oct. 7 incursion into southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, prompting Israel to retaliate by bombing the coastal enclave and launching a ground offensive in its north, Reuters reported.

Israel said 11 Israelis had returned to the country from the Gaza Strip on Monday, bringing to 69 the total of Israeli and foreign hostages the Palestinian group has freed since Friday under the truce.

The White House and Qatari negotiators said on Monday the original four day pause in fighting, due to expire at 0500 GMT on Tuesday, had been extended for two more days.

Israel has not commented on any agreement to extend the truce but, in what may be an implicit confirmation, the Israeli prime minister’s office said the government approved the addition of 50 female prisoners to its list of Palestinians for potential release if additional Israeli hostages are freed.

Hamas said it had sought to revise terms under which it would free hostages beyond the women and children it has already released.

“We hope the Occupation (Israel) abides (by the agreement) in the next two days because we are seeking a new agreement, besides women and children, whereby other categories that we have that we can swap,” Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya told Al Jazeera late on Monday.

That, he said, would entail “going towards an additional time period to continue swapping people at this stage”.

Among hostages Hamas still holds are fathers and husbands of those it has freed in recent days.

Israel previously said it would extend the truce by one day for every 10 more hostages released, providing some respite from the war.

Israel’s government has received a list of hostages who are expected to be released on Tuesday, Israel’s Army Radio reported, citing the Israeli prime minister’s office.

The Axios news website reported the list contained 10 hostages. There was no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office.

Israel Prison Service said 33 Palestinian prisoners were released on Monday from Israel’s Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank and from a detention center in Jerusalem, bringing the total number of Palestinians it has freed since Friday to 150.

Israeli forces clashed with some of the dozens of Palestinians who gathered outside Ofer prison to await the prisoner release, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Some of the protesters waved the flags of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group.

The ministry said a Palestinian was killed in the area, and that it was unclear if he had participated in the clashes. Palestinian media reported he was shot dead. Israel had no immediate comment on the incident.

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip and mounted a ground offensive in the north. More than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza’s Hamas-run government says, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Each day since the truce began on Friday, Hamas has released some hostages while Israel has freed some Palestinians it holds. Of the 69 hostages freed by Hamas were 51 Israelis and 18 foreigners.

Ido Dan, a relative of Israelis Sahar Calderon, 16, and Erez Calderon, 12, spoke of the joy at their release on Monday mixed with anxiety about their father, Ofer, who is still being held.

“It is difficult to go from a state of endless anxiety about their fate to a state of relief and joy,” Dan said. “This is an exciting and heart-filling moment but … it is the beginning of a difficult rehabilitation process for Sahar and Erez, who are still young and have been through an unbearable experience.”

The U.S. State Department said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates this week to discuss sustaining aid flows to Gaza and freeing all hostages as well as U.S. principles for the future of Gaza and the need for an independent Palestinian state.

The original truce agreement allowed more aid trucks into Gaza, where the civilian population faces shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine. An estimated 1.8 million of the territory’s 2.3 million population are internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

While describing the extension as “a glimpse of hope and humanity,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said two more days was not enough time to meet Gaza’s aid needs.

World

Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

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.

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World

US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

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.

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World

Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

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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