Israel-Hamas truce extension to facilitate exchanges, allow more aid into Gaza

Palestinian Muhammad Abu Al-Humus, former prisoner released from the Israeli jail in exchange for hostages freed by Hamas in Gaza, kisses his mother upon return to his home in east Jerusalem. (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Israel-Hamas truce extension to facilitate exchanges, allow more aid into Gaza

  • Eleven Israelis freed by Hamas entered Israel Monday night after more than seven weeks in captivity in Gaza
  • Thirty-three Palestinians released by Israel arrived early Tuesday in east Jerusalem and West Bank town of Ramallah

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their cease-fire for two more days past Monday, raising the prospect of further exchanges of militant-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and a longer halt to their deadliest and most destructive war.
Eleven Israeli women and children, freed by Hamas, entered Israel Monday night after more than seven weeks in captivity in Gaza in the fourth swap under the original four-day truce, which began Friday and was due to run out. Thirty-three Palestinian prisoners released by Israel arrived early Tuesday in east Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah. The prisoners were greeted by loud cheers as their bus made its way through the streets of Ramallah.
The deal for two additional days of cease-fire, announced by Qatar, raised hopes for further extensions, which also allow more aid into Gaza. Conditions there have remained dire for 2.3 million Palestinians, battered by weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground offensive that have driven three-quarters of the population from their homes.
Israel has said it would extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. After the announcement by Qatar — a key mediator in the conflict, along with the United States and Egypt — Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a two-day extension “under the same terms.”




Eitan Yahalomi, 12, walks with his mother at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. (Reuters)

But Israel says it remains committed to crushing Hamas’ military capabilities and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza after its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. That would likely mean expanding a ground offensive from devastated northern Gaza to the south.
Monday’s releases bring to 51 the number of Israelis freed under the truce, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.
After weeks of national trauma over the roughly 240 people abducted by Hamas and other militants, scenes of the women and children reuniting with families have rallied Israelis behind calls to return those who remain in captivity.
“We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” two relatives of Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl and dual Israeli-American citizen who was released Sunday, said in a statement.
Hamas and other militants could still be holding up to 175 hostages, enough to potentially extend the cease-fire for two and a half weeks. But those include a number of soldiers, and Hamas is likely to make much greater demands for their release.
 

FOURTH RELEASE
The newly released hostages included three women and nine children — including 3-year-old twin girls and their mother — from the kibbutz Nir Oz, a community near Gaza that was hard hit in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. The kibbutz said 49 of its residents remain in captivity, including the father of the twins. The Israeli military said late Monday that the hostages were undergoing initial medical checks in Israel before being reunited with their families.
Most of the hostages freed so far have appeared to be physically well. But 84-year-old Elma Avraham, released Sunday, was airlifted to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in life-threatening condition because of inadequate care, the hospital said.
Avraham’s daughter, Tali Amano, said her mother was “hours from death” when she was brought to the hospital. Avraham is currently sedated and has a breathing tube, but Amano said she told her of a new great-grandchild who was born while she was in captivity.
Avraham suffered from several chronic conditions that required regular medications but was stable before she was kidnapped, Amano said Monday.
So far, 19 people of other nationalities have been freed during the truce, mostly Thai nationals. Many Thais work in Israel, largely as farm laborers.




Palestinian prisoner Khalil Zama' (R) hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli jail. (AP)

France said three of the hostages released Monday were French-Israeli dual citizens, two 12-year-olds and one 16-year-old. The French government is ‘’working tirelessly’’ to free five other French citizens held hostage, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Palestinian prisoners released so far have been mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces, or of less-serious offenses. But some were convicted in alleged attempts to carry out stabbings, bombings and shootings. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.
The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye, but details of their captivity have started to trickle out.
Merav Raviv, whose three relatives were released Friday, said they had been fed irregularly and lost weight. One reported eating mainly bread and rice and sleeping on a makeshift bed of chairs pushed together. Hostages sometimes had to wait for hours to use the bathroom, she said.
In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby welcomed the extension of the truce.
“We would, of course, hope to see the pause extended further, and that will depend upon Hamas continuing to release hostages,” Kirby told reporters.

RESPITE IN GAZA
More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.
The calm from the truce allowed glimpses of the destruction wreaked by weeks of Israeli bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods.
Footage showed a complex of several dozen multistory residential buildings that had been pummeled into a landscape of wreckage in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Nearly every building was destroyed or severely damaged, some reduced to concrete frames half-slumped over. At a nearby UN school, the buildings were intact but partially burned and riddled with holes.
The Israeli assault has driven three-quarters of Gaza’s population from their homes, and now most of its 2.3 million people are crowded into the south. More than 1 million are living in UN shelters. The Israeli military has barred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from returning north.
Rain and wind added to the hardship of displaced Palestinians sheltering in the compound of Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza. Palestinians in coats baked flatbreads over a makeshift fire among tents set up on the muddy grounds.
Alaa Mansour said the conditions are simply horrendous.




In this handout picture taken and released by the Israeli Prime Minister's Office on November 26, 2023 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets soldiers at undisclosed location in the Gaza Strip. (AFP)

“My clothes are all wet, and I am unable to change them.” said Mansour, who is disabled. “I have not drunk water for two days, and there’s no bathroom to use.”
The UN says the truce made it possible to scale up the delivery of food, water and medicine to the largest volume since the start of the war. But the 160 to 200 trucks a day is still less than half what Gaza was importing before the fighting, even as humanitarian needs have soared.
Long lines formed outside stations distributing cooking fuel, allowed in for the first time. Fuel for generators has been brought for key service providers, including hospitals and water and sanitation facilities, but bakeries have been unable to resume work, the UN said.
Iyad Ghafary, a vendor in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, said many families were still unable to retrieve the dead from under the rubble left by Israeli airstrikes, and that local authorities weren’t equipped to deal with the level of destruction.
Many say the aid is not nearly enough.
Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who fled northern Gaza, said she had only managed to get one canned meal from a UN distribution center since the cease-fire began.
She said the crowds have overwhelmed local markets and gas stations as people try to stock up on basics. “People were desperate and went out to buy whenever they could,” she said. “They are extremely worried that the war will return.”


HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

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HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

  • HRW: Turkiye ‘bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports’ in Syria’s north’
BEIRUT: Turkiye bears responsibility for human rights abuses and violations of land and property rights in swathes of northern Syria it controls alongside its proxies, a Human Rights Watch report said Thursday.
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive ground operations to expel the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Syria’s north, with its proxies now controlling two large border strips.
Turkiye “bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports” in Syria’s north, HRW said in its report.
Turkish officials in Syria’s north have in some cases “been directly involved in apparent war crimes,” with Turkish forces and intelligence agencies involved “in carrying out and overseeing abuses,” the report said.
Abuses and violations are “most often directed at Kurdish civilians and anyone else perceived to have ties to Kurdish-led forces,” HRW said.
Kurdish women detainees have reported sexual violence including rape, while children as young as six months old have been detained with their mothers, the report said.
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.
The military police and the myriad rebel factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), both backed by Ankara, “have arbitrarily arrested and detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and subjected to unfair military trials scores of people with impunity,” HRW said.
A Syrian who formerly lived under SNA rule told HRW: “Everything is by the power of the weapon.”
The rights group has also accused Ankara of having “summarily deported thousands of Syrian refugees” from Turkiye to areas under its control in Syria.
In July 2023 alone, Ankara sent back more than 1,700 Syrians into the Tal Abyad border area, the report said.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in northeast Syria’s Turkish-controlled border strip have been displaced from their homes, with SNA factions looting, pillaging, and seizing their properties, the report said.
“The hardest thing for me was standing in front of my house and not being able to enter it,” a displaced Yazidi man from Ras Al-Ain told HRW.
Turkiye and its proxies “should grant independent investigative bodies immediate and unhindered access to territories under their control,” the rights group said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Urgent UN Security Council action sought to end war in Sudan

Updated 29 February 2024
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Urgent UN Security Council action sought to end war in Sudan

  • “It is clear that this is an urgent matter of peace and security that demands greater attention from the Security Council,” says US envoy
  • UN says that nearly 25 million people — half Sudan’s population — need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes

UNITED NATIONS: The United States on Wednesday pushed for the United Nations Security Council to take action to help end a nearly year-long conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The United States says the warring parties have committed war crimes and the RSF and allied militias have also committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The UN says that nearly 25 million people — half Sudan’s population — need aid and some 8 million have fled their homes and hunger is rising.
“It is clear that this is an urgent matter of peace and security that demands greater attention from the Security Council,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Reuters in a statement.
“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end. Time is running out,” she said, without specifying what action the 15-member council should take.
Since war erupted on April 15, 2023, the council has only issued three press statements condemning and expressing concern about the war. It echoed that language in a resolution in December that shut down a UN political mission — following a request from Sudan’s acting foreign minister.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in one city alone in Sudan’s West Darfur region last year in ethnic violence by the RSF and allied Arab militia, according to a UN sanctions monitors report, seen by Reuters last month.
“I am deeply disappointed that the allegations detailed in this report have received such little attention, both inside the UN Security Council and outside the United Nations,” said Thomas-Greenfield, who visited a refugee camp in Chad near the border with Sudan’s Darfur in September.
The Sudanese government recently prohibited aid deliveries through Chad, effectively shutting down a crucial route for supplies to the vast Darfur region, which is controlled by the rival RSF. Thomas-Greenfield described the move as “unacceptable” for threatening a “critical lifeline.”
Reuters last year chronicled the ethnically targeted violence committed in West Darfur. In hundreds of interviews with Reuters, survivors described horrific scenes of bloodletting in El Geneina and on the 30-km (18-mile) route from the city to the border with Chad as people fled.
 


Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks. Israeli hostages’ families push for release

Updated 29 February 2024
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Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks. Israeli hostages’ families push for release

  • The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Aid convoys carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, Israeli officials said Wednesday, the first major delivery in a month to the devastated, isolated area, where the UN has warned of worsening starvation among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s offensive.
The increasing alarm over hunger across Gaza has fueled international calls for a ceasefire as the US, Egypt and Qatar work to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some of the hostages seized by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack.
Mediators hope to reach an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts around March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in public on their demands.
Increasing the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal, families of hostages on Wednesday launched a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free. Some of the around 100 hostages freed during a ceasefire in late November are joining the march, which is to end near Netanyahu’s official residence.
The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault. In its Oct. 7 attack, the Palestinian militant group abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults. After the November releases, some 130 hostages remain, and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.
Israel’s assault on Gaza, which it says aims at destroying Hamas after its attack, has killed more than 29,900 Palestinians. UN officials warn of further mass casualties if it follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge. They also say a Rafah offensive could collapse the aid operation that has already been crippled in the fighting.
Across Gaza, more than 576,000 people – a quarter of the population – are a step away from famine, the UN says. But northern Gaza in particular has been gutted by hunger. The north has largely been cut off and much of it has been leveled since Israeli ground troops invaded in late October. Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain there, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. The UN says one in 6 children under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.
A convoy of 31 trucks carrying food entered northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military office that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs said. The office, known by the acronym COGAT, said nearly 20 other trucks entered the north on Monday and Tuesday. Associated Press footage showed people carrying sacks of flour from the distribution site.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the deliveries. The UN was not involved, said a spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, Eri Keneko.
As of Sunday, the UN had been unable to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, according to Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that has led the aid effort during the war. On Feb. 18, the World Food Program attempted a delivery to the north for the first time in three weeks, but much of the convoy’s cargo was taken en route by desperate Palestinians, and it was only able to distribute a small amount in the north. Two days later, the WFP announced it was pausing deliveries to the north because of the chaos.
Since launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing. Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the number of supply trucks entering has dropped dramatically in recent weeks.
COGAT said Wednesday that Israel does not impose limits on the amount of aid entering. Israel has blamed UN agencies for the bottleneck, saying hundreds of trucks are waiting on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom for aid workers to collect them.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday countered saying large trucks entering Gaza have to be unloaded and reloaded onto smaller Palestinian trucks, but there aren’t enough of them and there’s a lack of security to distribute aid in Gaza. Police in Gaza stopped protecting convoys after Israeli strikes on them near the crossing. There is also “insufficient coordination” from Israel on security and deconfliction, which puts the lives of UN staff and other humanitarian workers at risk.
“That’s why we’ve repeatedly asked for a humanitarian ceasefire,” he said. The UN has called for Israel to open crossings in the north to aid deliveries and guarantee safe corridors for convoys.
The director of Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza said the number of children who have died in recent days from severe malnutrition and dehydration had risen to four.
Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya said that operations at the hospital will shut off starting Wednesday due to fuel shortages. “Dialysis, intensive care, childcare, and surgeries will stop. Therefore, we will witness more deaths in the coming days,” he said.
But the pain from the lack of supplies extends across Gaza. Project Hope, a humanitarian group that runs a clinic in the central town of Deir Al-Balah, said 21 percent of the pregnant women and 11 percent of the children under 5 it has treated in the last three weeks are suffering from malnutrition.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll from Israel’s offensive had risen to 29,954 people, with 70,325 wounded. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it says two-thirds of the dead were children and women.
In its attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians.


Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths

Updated 28 February 2024
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Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths

  • The latest fatalities were at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city
  • The death toll from the famine among children rose to six martyrs as a result of dehydration and malnutrition

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Two children have died “of dehydration and malnutrition” in war-torn Gaza, the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry said Wednesday, the latest reported deaths as the UN warned of “imminent” famine.
The latest fatalities were at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city, the largest hospital in the besieged territory, said health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra.
“The death toll from the famine among children rose to six martyrs as a result of dehydration and malnutrition,” Qudra said.
The deaths could not be independently verified.
“We call on international institutions to take immediate action to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe in the northern Gaza Strip,” the spokesman added.
UN agencies have said the latest humanitarian convoy was allowed into the north more than a month ago.
The United Nations humanitarian coordination office on Wednesday said two children had died earlier of dehydration and malnutrition in northern Gaza’s Kamal Adwan hospital — deaths previously announced by Qudra.
A dire humanitarian emergency is unfolding in Gaza as Israel continues its relentless bid to eliminate Hamas in response to the Palestinian group’s October 7 attack.
The surprise attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Nearly five months into the war, the Israeli campaign has killed at least 29,954 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
With aid still blocked from entering northern Gaza by Israeli forces, and only entering the rest of the territory in dribs and drabs, the World Food Programme said on Tuesday that “if nothing changes, a famine is imminent.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNWRA, has reported a 50-percent drop in trucks entering Gaza so far this month compared to January.
The UN humanitarian office OCHA also cited projections indicating that “the entire population of the Gaza Strip faces crisis or worse levels of food insecurity.”
More than 500,000 people out of Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are “facing catastrophic conditions characterised by lack of food, starvation and exhaustion of coping capacities,” it warned.


US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

Updated 28 February 2024
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US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

  • “It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Israel to allow Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, after a far-right minister proposed barring Palestinians from the occupied West Bank from praying there.
“As it pertains to Al-Aqsa, we continue to urge Israel to facilitate access to Temple Mount for peaceful worshippers during Ramadan consistent with past practice,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, using the Jewish term for the site, the holiest in Judaism.
“That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve and to which they have a right, but it’s also a matter that directly is important to Israel’s security,” he said.
“It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region.”
Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The month of fasting comes as Israel wages a relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to a major attack by Hamas inside Israel on October 7.
Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.
“We call on our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the occupied interior (Israel) to travel to Al-Aqsa from the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan, in groups or alone, to pray there to break the siege on it,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised statement Wednesday.
Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank “should not be allowed” entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.
“We cannot take risks,” he said, adding: “We cannot have women and children hostage in Gaza and allow celebrations for Hamas on the Temple Mount.”
Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.
The United States has been pressing for a deal before Ramadan begins in which Israel would halt strikes in the Gaza Strip and hostages snatched on October 7 would be freed.
The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest figures by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
It was launched in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.