Hamas Releases 17 More Hostages, Including Israeli American Girl

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Israel said Sunday that Hamas militants have released 17 more hostages held in Gaza, including a 4-year-old Israeli American girl who U.S. President Joe Biden said witnessed her parents being killed by Hamas during its attack on southern Israel seven weeks ago.

The girl, Abigail Edan, was among 14 Israelis and three foreign nationals turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross on the third day that Hamas has released hostages in exchange for Israel freeing Palestinians who had been jailed for various offenses.

Biden said, “What she endured is unthinkable.”

The U.S. leader spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later about the release of the hostages during Israel’s planned four-day pause in its offensive on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the narrow territory along the Mediterranean Sea. 

The White House said in a statement that Biden and Netanyahu s also discussed the pause in the fighting and surge in much needed additional humanitarian assistance into Gaza. 

“The prime minister thanked the president for his tireless efforts to help broker and fully implement this deal,” the statement said. “The two leaders agreed that the work is not yet done and that they will continue working to secure the release of all hostages.”

The truce is set to end Tuesday, although Israel has said it will extend the cease-fire by a day for every additional 10 hostages Hamas releases beyond the deal now in place — a release of 50 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel released 39 more Palestinian prisoners later Sunday.

The temporary truce is the first halt in the conflict since Hamas, in a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, killed 1,200 people and seized about 240 hostages. Israel in turn vowed to eliminate Hamas and bombarded Gaza with aerial attacks and a ground offensive that Palestinian officials say has killed more than 14,000 people, about 40% of them children.

Aside from the Israeli American girl released Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC’s “This Week” show that Hamas has been holding eight other Americans and a foreign national with U.S. employment rights.

Biden said he hopes other American hostages would be released by Hamas as well and said he would like to see the truce extended as long as prisoners are being released.

“We will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones,” Biden said.

Ahead of the latest hostage release, Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, where he spoke with troops. “We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return everyone.”

“We are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us,” Netanyahu said. It was not immediately clear where he went inside Gaza.

While the cease-fire with Hamas seemed to be holding, the Palestinian health ministry said that Israeli forces shot dead at least six Palestinians overnight on the West Bank.

Hamas released 17 hostages late Saturday, 13 Israelis and four Thais. A short time later, early Sunday, Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners.

The hostages were released hours later than expected after the militant group accused Israel of violating the exchange agreement, claims Israeli officials denied.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators were able to address Hamas’ concerns, and the hostages were then released just before midnight.

Of the 13 released Israelis on Saturday, there were seven children and six women, most from Kibbutz Be’eri. The children ranged in age from 3 to 16, and the women ranged from 18 to 67.

The Israelis released Sunday ranged from 4 to 84. Included among those released Sunday three Thai nationals.

Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., United Kingdom, the European Union and others.

Although one of Israel’s preconditions for the swap was not to split the families of the abductees, at least two families from Kibbutz Be’eri were split. A kibbutz spokesperson said all the released hostages either had a family member killed in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel or had left a loved one in captivity in Gaza.

One was Hila Rotem, 12, whose mother remains with Hamas.

Of the 39 Palestinian prisoners freed, 33 were children and six were women, a Qatari spokesperson said.

Television images showed prisoners being welcomed home.

The most prominent Palestinian released was Israa Jaabis, 38, who was convicted of a checkpoint bombing attack in 2015 that wounded a police officer. She suffered burns and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

VOA’s Natasha Mosgovaya contributed to this report. 

VOA

The VOA is the Voice of America

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