GAZA, Nov 29 — Hamas freed 12 more hostages and Israel released 30 Palestinian prisoners yesterday, the fifth day of an extended six-day truce between the Palestinian group and Israel in the Gaza war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the 12 hostages had been transferred from Gaza, and Israel’s military confirmed that the 10 Israeli citizens and two foreign nationals were with its special forces on Israeli territory.

The hostages were among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on October 7 in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed. Israel’s bombardment of Hamas-ruled Gaza in retaliation has killed more than 15,000 Gazans, health authorities there said.

Live video images broadcast by Al Jazeera television showed a bus with Palestinian prisoners leaving Israel’s Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank.

Advertisement

Israel said it freed 30 Palestinian detainees from Ofer and a detention centre in Jerusalem. Earlier it said they would be 15 women and 15 teenage males, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, a semi-official organisation.

Al Jazeera said the Palestinians had arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry of Qatar, which is mediating in the conflict, said the freed Israeli hostages included nine women and one minor.

Advertisement

Some of the hostages were handed over by the Al Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, it said on Telegram.

The truce has brought Gaza its first respite after seven weeks of fighting and bombardment that has reduced much of the Gaza Strip to rubble. It had been due to expire overnight into Tuesday but both sides agreed to extend the pause to allow for the release of more hostages held by Hamas and of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Israel has said the truce could be prolonged further, provided Hamas continues to free at least 10 Israeli hostages per day. But with fewer women and children still in captivity, keeping the guns quiet beyond today may require negotiating to free at least some Israeli men for the first time.

The total number of hostages released by Hamas since the start of the truce last Friday now stands at 81, including 60 Israelis — all women and children — and 21 foreign nationals, many of them Thai farmworkers.

Israel had freed 150 prisoners before Tuesday’s releases.

Further extension?

Yesterday, Israeli forces and Hamas fighters largely held their fire and both sides expressed their hope for further extensions of the pause in fighting.

Qatar hosted the spy chiefs from Israel’s Mossad and the United States’ CIA at a meeting to “build on the progress of the extended humanitarian pause agreement and to initiate further discussions about the next phase of a potential deal”, a source briefed on the visits told Reuters.

Although conditions on the ground in Gaza remained largely peaceful, Israel’s military said three explosive devices had been detonated yesterday afternoon near its troops in two different locations in the northern Gaza Strip, violating the truce terms.

In one location, gunmen opened fire on the soldiers who returned fire and a number of soldiers were lightly injured, it said.

Earlier, a single column of black smoke could be seen rising above the obliterated wasteland of the northern Gaza war zone from across the fence in Israel, but for a fifth day there was no sign of war planes in the sky or rumble of explosions.

Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, chief of Israel’s armed forces, told a press briefing that the military remained on alert in Gaza and was prepared to continue fighting.

Burying the dead

More than two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have lost their homes to Israeli bombardments, with thousands of families sleeping rough in makeshift shelters with only the belongings they could carry.

Many are using the truce to return to abandoned or destroyed homes, like Abu Shamaleh, who was picking through the rubble of his flattened home in Khan Younis, looking for anything recoverable.

He said 37 family members had been killed and that there was no machinery to excavate the body of a cousin still buried in the ruins.

“The truce is the time to lift the rubble and search for all the missing people and bury them. We honour the dead by burying them. What use is the truce if the bodies remain under the rubble?” he said.

Among Israeli hostages yet to be freed was 10-month-old baby Kfir Bibas, along with his brother Ariel, 4, and their parents Yarden and Shiri, seized from a kibbutz by gunmen on October 7.

Yarden’s sister told reporters relatives had learned the family would not be in the group to go free yesterday. Israeli officials said they believed the family was being held by a militant group other than Hamas.

“Kfir... is a child who still doesn’t even know how to say ‘Mommy’,” Jimmy Miller, a cousin, told Channel 12 TV. “We in the family are not managing to function... The family hasn’t slept for a long, long time already — 51 days.”

When the war resumes, Israel has said it intends to press on with its assault from the northern half of Gaza into the south. US officials said they have told their ally to be more careful protecting civilians as its forces press on.

Israel’s siege has led to the collapse of Gaza’s health care system, especially in the north where no hospitals remain functioning. The World Health Organisation said more Gazans could soon be dying of disease than from bombing and many had no access to medicines, vaccines, safe water and hygiene and no food. — Reuters