Israel and Hamas have agreed to extend the six-day truce in Gaza for another day. Both sides said the extension was “under the same conditions” which have seen Israel offer an extra day’s pause in fighting for every 10 Israeli hostages released. Israel’s military said the truce will continue “in light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing hostages.” It is anticipated that it will continue to release three Palestinian prisoners from its jails for every Israeli captive returned from Gaza.
Sixteen more hostages were freed from Gaza and 30 Palestinian prisoners released on Wednesday (November 29). They included two Russian-Israeli women who were returned separately first. The others who followed were four male teens aged 16 to 18, a 13-year-old girl and five women aged 36 to 57. All were Israelis, but several were dual nationals from the US, Germany and the Netherlands. Four more Thai farm workers were also freed.
Celebrations were muted as Hamas claimed that the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his four-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri had been killed in an Israeli airstrike. It didn’t say when or where. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) couldn’t confirm their deaths, but believed the mother and boys had been transferred by Hamas to another Palestinian militant group in Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis. For many Israelis, baby Kfir was the innocent face at the heart of the Hamas atrocities.
It’s believed this could have been the sticking point in delaying the agreement to extend the ceasefire. Without naming them, Hamas had wanted to include the remains of three Israeli hostages killed in airstrikes as part of the 10 who would be released. Israel rejected that offer and later said Hamas had submitted an improved list, clearing the way for the extension. It’s still unclear what has happened to the Bibas family.
The Associated Press reports negotiations for further ceasefire extensions appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas have been freed and the militants are expected to seek greater releases of Palestinian prisoners in return for freeing men and soldiers.
Israel had been planning to resume the attack on Hamas when the truce expired on Thursday at 7am local time (4pm AEDT). The announcement of the extension came just minutes before that deadline. It followed the return of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel for ‘final-hour’ talks to try to extend the ceasefire and keep humanitarian aid supplies pouring into Gaza. A further complication arose over the fatal shooting of two Palestinian boys aged 8 and 15 by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday. Two senior militant commanders were also killed in the IDF operation.
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 healthy, but mentally shaken. An elderly woman who was in a critical condition is showing signs of recovery. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been freed. Before the ceasefire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.
The Associated Press reports that: “So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas’s rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the ceasefire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages. Hamas leaders, including [its chief in Gaza] Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.”
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that Gaza is in the midst of an “epic humanitarian catastrophe,” and called for a ceasefire to replace the temporary truce. “Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce – which we strongly welcome – but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he told a meeting of the UN Security Council.