New hostages held by Hamas are to be released on Tuesday in exchange for prisoners held by Israel, after the truce in the Gaza Strip was extended for two days, offering additional respite to residents of the devastated Palestinian territory.
WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW
- The four-day humanitarian truce was extended for two days, beginning Tuesday;
- 50 hostages held in Gaza and 150 Palestinian prisoners released;
- The new truce should allow the release of 20 hostages and 60 prisoners;
- The released Israeli hostages are only women and children;
- Palestinian detainees are women and young people under the age of 19;
- Hundreds of aid trucks have been able to enter the Gaza Strip since Friday;
- The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains catastrophic, according to the UN;
- Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank by the end of the week.
- According to Israel, 1,200 people were killed in the October 7 attack by Hamas;
- Around 240 people were kidnapped and taken to the Gaza Strip;
- Nearly 15,000 people were killed in the Gaza Strip, including 6,150 children;
- Gaza Civil Defense estimates that more than 7,000 people are missing.
The extension of the truce, until Thursday midnight (Eastern time), should allow the release of approximately 20 hostages and 60 additional prisoners, a ratio of one hostage for three prisoners as in previous days.
Ten Israeli hostages and 30 Palestinian prisoners are to be released on Tuesday, a source close to Hamas announced.
But, a sign of a still fragile situation, an AFP journalist in Gaza City on Tuesday saw the army fire three tank shells towards dozens of civilians who were trying to return to the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. He saw at least one injured.
The army claimed that “suspects had approached Israeli troops” and that a tank had carried out “warning shots”, while the Palestinian movements denounced “violations of the truce” by Israel.
The extension of the truce should at the same time allow the entry of new humanitarian aid trucks into the Gaza Strip, besieged and bombarded for seven weeks by the Israeli army in retaliation for the bloody attack launched by Hamas against Israel on October 7.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed a “ray of hope […] amid the darkness of war.”
Despite the arrival via Egypt, since November 24, of hundreds of trucks, the needs remain immense and the humanitarian situation “catastrophic”, according to a UN envoy, in the small territory where 1.7 of the 2, 4 million inhabitants were displaced by the war.
The truce agreement negotiated under the aegis of Qatar, with the support of Egypt and the United States, has so far enabled the release of 50 Israeli hostages held in Gaza since October 7, and 150 Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli prisons.
Nineteen foreign hostages, mostly Thais living in Israel, were released by Hamas outside the framework of this agreement.
An “incomplete” joy
But in Israel, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains subject to very strong pressure from public opinion, traumatized by the Hamas attack, which demands the return of the hostages.
The Israeli military estimated that around 240 people were kidnapped on October 7 and taken to Gaza.
Israel’s Western allies, starting with the United States, have also increased calls for an extension of the truce.
During the night, eleven Israeli hostages were released and returned to Israel by helicopter, before being reunited with their families.
Among them are three adolescents with dual French nationality, Erez and Sahar Calderon, 12 and 16 years old, and Eitan Yahalomi, 12 years old, kidnapped from kibbutz Nir Oz.
Images released by the Israeli army showed Eitan, whose father Ohad was also kidnapped, finding his mother holding him close.
The Calderon family’s lawyers expressed their “immense joy”, but an “incomplete” joy, because the father of Erez and Sahar also remains in the hands of Hamas.
Shortly after, Israel released 33 Palestinians held in its prisons.
“I can’t describe what I feel. “It’s an indescribable joy,” said one of them, Mohamed Abou al-Humus, upon returning home to East Jerusalem, occupied and annexed by Israel, where he hugged his mother, according to a team from the ‘AFP on site.
But in Beitunia, in the occupied West Bank, the celebrations were short-lived: a young Palestinian was “shot and killed” during clashes with Israeli forces, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Shortly before the renewal of the truce, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office had agreed to include “50 prisoners” including Ahed Tamimi, a young icon of the Palestinian cause arrested in early November, in the list of Palestinians likely to be released.
Meanwhile, mediators are working behind the scenes to extend the truce beyond Thursday.
The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will once again travel to Israel and the occupied West Bank by the end of the week, to meet Benjamin Netanyahu and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Blinken “will emphasize the need to continue providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and improve the protection of civilians in Gaza,” a US official said.
On the Israeli side, the government has reiterated in recent days its intention to eventually resume fighting, in order to “destroy” Hamas, “ensure that the Gaza Strip will never be a threat to Israel’s security and liberate all the hostages.
The government also agreed overnight on a “war” extension of 30.3 billion shekels (7.5 billion euros).
“Memories of my home”
In Israel, 1,200 people, the vast majority civilians, according to the authorities, were killed in the attack carried out on October 7 by Hamas commandos, unprecedented in the history of the country.
In retaliation, Israel promised to “annihilate” Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel, relentlessly bombing the Palestinian territory and launching a ground offensive on October 27, until the truce. .
In the Gaza Strip, 14,854 people, including 6,150 under the age of 18, were killed by Israeli strikes, according to the Hamas government.
Already subject to an Israeli land, sea and air blockade since 2007, the overpopulated territory was placed under total siege by Israel on October 9, and has since suffered serious shortages of water, food, fuel, medicine and of electricity.
More than half of the homes have been damaged or destroyed by the war, according to the UN.
Thousands of Palestinians, who had sought refuge in the south of the Gaza Strip, took advantage of the truce to return home to the north, the most devastated region, ignoring the ban by the Israeli army which took control of several sectors of the north.
“I’m trying to find memories of my home,” says a Palestinian from al-Zahra, south of Gaza City, gesturing to the mountains of rubble where his house stood, destroyed by strikes Israelis.
“Al-Zahra was the most beautiful city in the world. We were lucky to live in this town, and now it has disappeared,” laments Zein Ashour, a young woman who also lived in this now razed neighborhood.
“We are suffering because we have no food, no water, they are not giving us any help. Our five children don’t have diapers either,” lamented Fouad Hara, a Palestinian from Gaza City, displaced in the south of the territory.