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Monday, February 26, 2024

Hamas Releases 17 More Hostages, Including 4-Year-Old American, Extends Cease-Fire Talks

In a significant development in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the militant group released 17 more hostages on Sunday, extending a temporary cease-fire with Israel. Among those freed was Avigail Idan, a 4-year-old dual Israeli and U.S. citizen who recently celebrated her birthday. The cease-fire, initiated last week, began on Friday and was scheduled to continue until Monday, marking the longest pause in fighting in Gaza since October 7.

The agreement between Israel and Hamas involved the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners and detainees. According to the deal, Israel offered to extend the cease-fire for an additional day for every 10 hostages released beyond the initial 50 outlined in the agreement. The hostages, including Avigail Idan, were among approximately 240 people taken by Hamas and its allies on October 7.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office confirmed that 14 Israelis, including nine children, and three foreigners were released on the third day of the agreement. Avigail’s parents, Roy Idan and Smadar Idan, were reportedly fatally shot at the Kfar Aza kibbutz, while her siblings, Michael (9) and Amelia (6), survived the violence.

TV footage showed Israelis welcoming the released hostages near the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, waving flags and cheering as the convoy of minibuses carrying 12 of the freed hostages arrived. Nine children and two women were later reported to have arrived at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, where their families eagerly awaited reunification.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, provided updates on the health of the released hostages. One hostage, Elma Avraham, was airlifted directly from Gaza to an Israeli hospital in serious condition. Additionally, four others, including one Israeli and three foreign nationals, crossed into Egypt. Israel’s prison service announced the release of 39 Palestinians within hours of the hostages’ liberation.

The Qatar foreign ministry, which played a role in brokering the deal, stated that the released hostages included a Russian national and three Thai citizens. Notably, the Russian man, a 25-year-old residing in northern Israel, was released outside the Hamas-Israel agreement, with Hamas attributing his release to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a positive sign, Hamas released a statement expressing its desire to extend the truce after the initial four-day period ends. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in response, acknowledged the possibility of extending the truce, highlighting the existing framework that allows for the release of an additional 10 hostages for each extra day of truce.

Concerns had emerged a day earlier when Hamas threatened to postpone the second phase of the trade, citing alleged Israeli breaches of the agreement. Despite the initial delay, the exchange proceeded, with Hamas releasing 13 Israeli hostages and Israel releasing 39 Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

The conflict initiated by the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 has resulted in over 13,000 Gazan casualties, according to local health officials. The rising death toll has led to growing international concern, urging countries, including the United States, to press Israel to reconsider its military objectives. An extended cease-fire presents an opportunity for diplomatic efforts to encourage de-escalation and promote a more lasting peace in the region.

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