Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

Thai nationals gesture from a bus as they leave the Shamir Hospital in Ramle, Israel, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, on their way back to Thailand, after being released from Hamas custody. (AP)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

  • International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said 10 Israelis and four Thai nationals were released late Wednesday from captivity in the Gaza Strip.
The hostages crossed into Egypt and were to be transferred to Israel.
It was the sixth such release under a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel is to release 30 Palestinian prisoners later Wednesday.
The cease-fire is set to expire early Thursday. International mediators are trying to extend the deal to facilitate the release of additional hostages held by Hamas.
The militant group captured some 240 people in an Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Some 150 people are believed to remain in captivity.
A new swap of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel got underway late Wednesday in the final hours of the current Gaza truce as international mediators raced to extend the halt of Israel’s air and ground offensive to allow further exchanges.
The Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals had been handed over by Hamas to the Red Cross in Gaza and were heading to exit the territory. Earlier, two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release. Israel was set to free 30 Palestinian prisoners in return.
Negotiators were working down to the wire to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce beyond its deadline of early Thursday. The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, and the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.
International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis. Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war
“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”
He spoke ahead of a visit to the region planned this week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian boys — an 8-year-old an a 15-year-old — during a raid on the town of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said. Security footage showed a group of boys in the street who start to run, except for one who falls to the ground, bleeding.
The Israeli military said its troops fired on people who threw explosives at them but did not specify it was referring to the boys, who are not seen throwing anything. Separately, the military said its troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants during the raid.
So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas’ rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the cease-fire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages. Hamas leaders, including Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.
With Israeli troops holding much of northern Gaza, a ground invasion south will likely bring an escalating cost in Palestinian lives and destruction.
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south. The truce has brought them relief from bombardment, but the days of calm have been taken up in a frenzied rush to obtain supplies to feed their families as aid enters in greater, but still insufficient, amounts.
United States, Israel’s main ally, has shown greater reticence over the impact of the war in Gaza. The Biden administration has told Israel that if it launches an offensive in the south, it must operate with far greater precision.
ISRAEL’S HOSTAGE DILEMMA
The plight of the captives and shock from the Oct. 7 attack have galvanized Israeli support for the war. But Netanyahu is under pressure to bring the hostages home and could find it difficult to resume the offensive if there’s a prospect for more releases.
Since the initial truce began on Friday, both sides have been releasing women and children in their exchanges. After Friday’s releases, Gaza militants still hold around 20 women, accordding to Israeli officials. IF the truce continues at the current rate, they would be out in a few days.
After that, keeping the truce going depends on tougher negotiations over the release of around 126 men Israel says are held captive – including several dozen soldiers.
For men — and especially soldiers — Hamas is expected to push for comparable releases of Palestinian men or prominent detainees, a deal Israel may resist.
An Israeli official involved in hostage negotiations said talks on a further extension for release of civilian males and soldiers were still preliminary, and a deal would not be considered until all the women and children are out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing.
With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.
So far, most of the 180 Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.
Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decades-long military occupation of lands they want for a future state.
The war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel, in which it killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants kidnapped some 240 people back into Gaza, including babies, children, women, soldiers, older adults and Thai farm laborers.
Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, 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.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11 due to the breakdown of services in the north. The ministry says thousands more people are missing and feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
TENSE CALM IN GAZA
For Palestinians in Gaza, the truce’s calm has been overwhelmed by the search for aid and by horror as they see the extent of destruction.
In the north, residents described entire residential blocks leveled to the ground in Gaza City and surrounding areas. The smell of decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings fills the air, said Mohmmed Mattar, a 29-year-old resident of Gaza City who along with other volunteers searches for the dead under rubble or left in the streets.
They have found and buried 46 so far during the truce, he said. Most were unidentified. More bodies remain inside rubble but can’t be reached without heavy equipment, or are left on streets that are unapproachable because of Israeli troops nearby, Mattar said.
In the south, the truce has allowed more aid to be delivered from Egypt, up to 200 trucks a day. But aid officials say it is not enough, given that most now depend on outside aid. Overwhelmed UN-run shelters house more than 1 million displaced people, with many sleeping outside in cold, rainy weather.
At a distribution center in Rafah, large crowds line daily up for newly arrived bags of flour. But supplies run out quickly before many can get their share.
“We’ve been searching for bread for our children,” said one woman in line, Nawal Abu Namous. “Every day, we come here … we spend money on transportation to get here, just to go home with nothing.”
Some markets and shops have reopened, but prices for the few items in stock have skyrocketed. Winter clothes are unavailable. One clothes shop owner in Deir Al-Balah told The Associated Press that he hates opening his doors in the morning, knowing he’ll spend most of the day apologizing to customers for not having winter items.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said some 111,000 people have respiratory infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under 5 years old. “More people could die from disease than bombings.”
“We are fed up,” said Omar Al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza. “We want this war to stop.”


Strike on Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza kills and wounds dozens

Updated 3 sec ago
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Strike on Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza kills and wounds dozens

  • Hospital officials say an apparent Israeli strike on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City has killed and wounded dozens
RAFAH: An apparent Israeli strike on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City on Thursday has killed and wounded dozens, according to local hospital officials.
Dr. Jadallah Shafai, the head of the nursing department at Shifa Hospital, told the Al Jazeera network that around 50 people were killed and 250 wounded. He did not provide a precise toll.
Al Jazeera ran footage showing several bodies and injured people arriving at Shifa.
The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.
Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital, said medics arriving at the scene found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals on donkey carts.
Dr, Mohammad Salha, the acting director of the Al-Awda Hospital, said it received 90 wounded and three dead, who were transferred to Kamal Adwan.
“We expect a rise in the number killed,” he said. “There are many wounded still at the reception and the emergency room.”
He said Al-Awda is largely out of commission, with no electricity and the operating room running on battery power with only hours left. Gaza’s health sector is under severe strain nearly five months into the Israel-Hamas war.

Russian rocket successfully puts Iranian satellite into orbit

Updated 5 min 19 sec ago
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Russian rocket successfully puts Iranian satellite into orbit

  • The Iranian state TV said the 110-kilogram satellite has three cameras

MOSCOW: A Russian rocket on Thursday successfully put an Iranian satellite into orbit, a launch that underlined increasingly close cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.
Russia’s state-run Roscosmos corporation said that a Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Vostochny launch facility in the country’s far east to carry the Iranian satellite and 18 Russian satellites into orbit.
The Iranian state TV said the 110-kilogram satellite has three cameras to take images for environmental, agricultural and other purposes.
Iran’s state TV said the satellite will be put into orbit around the North and South Poles, synchronized to be in the same fixed position relative to the Sun, and will be fully functional after a calibration of its systems.
Thursday’s launch comes after Russia put into orbit the Iranian Khayyam satellite in 2022.
Iran’s Communication Minister Isa Zarepour told the TV that Iran’s space program has had a total of 23 launches, including 12 during President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration.


HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

Updated 29 February 2024
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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.