Release Of 14 Israeli Hostages Delayed: Hamas Demands More Humanitarian Aid In Gaza

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By Linda Gradstein and Steve Herman

The second round of hostage releases will be delayed until Israel is committed to allowing more aid trucks to enter northern Gaza, the armed wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas said Saturday.

The news comes as Hamas fighters are expected to release 14 Israeli hostages in exchange for 42 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel on Saturday, according to Israeli officials. It is the second day of the cease-fire after seven weeks of a war that has killed thousands of people.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that he is determined to bring back all the hostages, whatever the circumstances.

“We just completed the return of the first of our hostages: children, their mothers, and additional women. Each of them is an entire world. But I emphasize to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel, we are committed to returning all the hostages. This is one of the aims of the war, and we are committed to achieving all the aims of the war.”

U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, expressed hope Friday that “this first day of the humanitarian pause is followed by many others and that it leads to a longer-term humanitarian cease-fire — for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond.”

The pause has allowed the U.N. to increase its humanitarian assistance into and across Gaza. On Friday, 200 trucks were sent from Nitzana to the Rafah crossing, and 137 trucks of goods were offloaded at the reception point in Gaza by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

Four tanks of fuel and four tanks of cooking gas were transferred from Egypt to U.N. humanitarian aid organizations in the southern Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing. The fuel and cooking gas are designated for operating essential humanitarian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”

Thousands of Gaza residents are leaving communal shelters and makeshift encampments to discover what has become of their homes.

For many of the 2.3 million people who live in the tiny Gaza Strip, the pause in the near-constant air and artillery strikes has offered a first chance to safely move around, take stock of the devastation and seek access to the humanitarian aid pouring into Gaza.

Over the course of the cessation in fighting, Hamas is to release at least 50 hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners, as part of an agreement struck during talks involving Israel, Palestinian militant groups, Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

London demonstration

British police arrested a protester Saturday in London during a pro-Palestinian rally on suspicion of inciting racial hatred.

“Officers spotted him carrying a placard with Nazi symbols on it,” police said.

Tens of thousands of people poured onto central London’s streets for the march calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, while more than 1,500 police officers have been called on duty for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The National March for Palestine, which aimed to finish in Whitehall, central London, was the latest of several huge protests staged in the British capital every weekend since the Israel-Hamas war began last month.

Released hostages

Twenty-four hostages, including 13 Israeli women and children, ranging in age from 2 to 85, were released Friday evening. Additionally, Hamas released 10 Thai nationals and a Filipino who it also had taken hostage, according to the Qatari government.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government freed 39 Palestinian women and male juveniles who had been imprisoned or detained.

Israel said the four-day stop in fighting would be extended an extra day for every 10 additional hostages freed by Hamas. A Qatari spokesperson said Doha hopes to broker another agreement to release more hostages from Gaza by the cease-fire’s fourth day.

“Chances are real” for an extension of the temporary halt to the war, U.S. President Joe Biden said in Friday remarks. He added that two American women and a 4-year-old American child remain among those missing.

“Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday began carrying out a multiday operation to facilitate the release and transfer of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian detainees to the West Bank. The operation will include the delivery of additional, much-needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza,” the ICRC said in a statement about the four-day cease-fire brokered by Qatar.

After nightfall Friday, television images aired live on Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV showed a line of ambulances carrying the freed hostages from Gaza into Egypt through Rafah Crossing.

After their release, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We have just completed the return of the first batch of our hostages. Children, their mothers and other women. Each and every one of them is a world in itself.

“But I stress to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel: We are committed to returning all our hostages,” he said.

In Tel Aviv, crowds of Israelis celebrated the news, while in the West Bank town of Beituna, hundreds of Palestinians honked horns and lit fireworks to mark the release of the Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas confirmed on its Telegram channel that attacks from its forces will also pause. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., U.K., EU and others.

Care for released hostages

Israeli public health official Dr. Hagai Levine said some of the elderly hostages have chronic conditions like diabetes. And the children have not seen daylight in almost seven weeks, he said.

“We do not know, we need to be prepared, to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Levine said.

The Associated Press reported that Israel’s Schneider Children’s Medical Center is treating eight freed Israeli hostages — four children and four women. According to the medical center, all eight appeared to be in good physical condition.

Relief for Gaza residents

For Palestinians, the cease-fire means a respite from almost seven weeks of Israeli airstrikes that have killed more than 14,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-affiliated health ministry.

Jason Lee, the West Bank director for Save the Children, said children in Gaza have been inordinately affected.

“We now have a situation where one child is killed every 10 minutes,” Lee said. “The numbers of civilians that have been injured are increasing as well. Over 30,000 civilians are injured, and again, indicating the asymmetry of this conflict, almost 70% — that’s seven out of 10 — is a woman or a child.”

Israel said it will allow large quantities of humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.

“Four tankers of fuel and four tankers of cooking gas were transferred from Egypt to U.N. humanitarian aid organizations in the southern Gaza Strip via the Rafah Crossing,” according to the Israel Defense Forces. About 200 trucks crossed into Gaza with humanitarian aid from Friday morning, according to Biden. It was the largest humanitarian convoy to enter the territory since the war began. Before the war broke out between Israel and Hamas, about 500 trucks entered the Palestinian territory daily.

International reaction

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who hosted the Spanish and Belgian prime ministers Friday, said in a televised address that international leaders, including Biden, have told him that Palestinians will not be forced out of Gaza and into Egypt. He said that living conditions in Gaza are impossible, and that this will push people to leave the area. The Egyptian leader said he spoke with Biden, who assured him that the United States would not permit the forced migration of Palestinians out of Gaza.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told journalists during a visit to Egypt’s Rafah border crossing Friday that the European Union is hoping to get more aid into Gaza than is currently entering the strip.

Sanchez called for Hamas to release all remaining hostages and urged Israel to show more restraint.

“I also reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself, but it must do so within the parameters and limitations imposed by international humanitarian law, and this is not the case,” he said. “The indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, including thousands of boys and girls, is completely unacceptable. Violence will only lead to more violence.”

Sanchez went on to propose an international peace conference to discuss the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and to stress the need to implement a “two-state solution” between Israel and Palestinians.

Visiting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated the goals of the European Union’s mediation between Israel and the Palestinians were a “permanent cease-fire” and to allow the entry of the massive back-up of humanitarian aid supplies on the Egyptian side of the border. He also criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, while condemning the Palestinian Hamas group, which runs Gaza.

“On the other side of this border, horrific fighting has taken place, too many civilians have been killed, and as always, the first victims are women and children, families have been torn apart, communities have been destroyed,” De Croo said. “Israel has a right to defend its citizens. The whole of Hamas is barbaric, and Hamas needs to do everything to release all the innocent hostages.”

In response to the comments by the Spanish and Belgian prime ministers, the Israeli foreign ministry Friday summoned the ambassadors of both countries for a “harsh rebuke” and accused the European leaders of “supporting terrorism.”

The back and forth comes two weeks after Arab and Islamic leaders called for an unconditional cease-fire and efforts by the international community to implement a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians during a joint Arab-Islamic summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Biden reiterated his stance Friday to pursue a two-state solution so Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side.

“It’s now more important than ever,” he said.

Linda Gradstein wrote from Jerusalem and Steve Herman from Washington. Edward Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo. 

VOA

The VOA is the Voice of America

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