Hamas on Sunday released a third group of hostages, including a four-year-old American girl, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, on the third day of a truce that a source close to Hamas said they were willing to extend.
The transfers under a four-day truce that began Friday have been the first relief for captives’ families since the Hamas group attacked Israel on Oct. 7, triggering devastating Israeli bombings in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials said 17 hostages had returned to Israeli territory after the latest release. One, in her 80s, was admitted to the hospital and said her life was in danger.
US President Joe Biden announced that among those released is a four-year-old American girl.
“She’s been through a terrible trauma,” Biden said of Abigail, whose parents were killed by Hamas during the unprecedented attacks.
The 17 hostages, including three Thai citizens, were released outside the terms of the truce.
Hamas said a Russian-Israeli, Ron Krivoy, was freed “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and his “support for the Palestinian cause.”
Those freed were among about 240 people captured on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters stormed Gaza’s militarized border with Israel in the country’s deadliest attack.
According to Israeli authorities, Hamas operatives killed about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners.
In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.
Sunday’s releases bring to 39 the total number of Israelis freed under the deal since Friday.
In return, another 39 Palestinian prisoners were released on Sunday, the Israeli prison service said, following the release of another 78 Palestinian inmates from Israeli jails in the past two days.
On Friday, Hamas freed another 10 Thais and one Filipino, in a surprise move separate from the main deal.
The group’s armed wing released a video Sunday night showing hostages entering vehicles and then getting out in the center of Gaza City, devastated by Israel’s air and ground offensive, where a crowd greeted the fighters of Hamas.
Israel has faced increasing pressure to extend the pause brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt.
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told BFMTV that “it would be good, useful and necessary” to extend the truce until all hostages, including French citizens, are freed.
Biden expressed similar hope “so that we can continue to see more hostages leave and send more humanitarian aid to those in need in Gaza.”
A source close to Hamas said the group was willing to extend the pause.
“Hamas informed the mediators that the resistance movements were willing to extend the current truce from two to four days,” the source told AFP.
“The resistance believes that it is possible to guarantee the release of between 20 and 40 Israeli prisoners” in that time.
Under the truce, 50 hostages held by Hamas will be released in four days in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. A built-in mechanism extends it if at least 10 Israeli captives are freed each day.
Israeli leaders, however, have dimmed hopes for a lasting cessation of the offensive.
“We will continue until the end, until victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Gaza on Sunday.
Dressed in a green military uniform and surrounded by soldiers, he vowed to free all the hostages and “eliminate Hamas,” in images posted online by his office.
He spoke during the first visit to Gaza by an Israeli prime minister since 2005.
“Nothing will stop us and we are convinced that we have the power, strength, will and determination to achieve all the objectives of the war,” Netanyahu said.
In the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, residents received a text message from Israeli forces saying they knew there were hostages there.
“The army will neutralize anyone who has kidnapped hostages,” the message said.
Elsewhere in Gaza, after weeks of shelling, residents ventured back to search through the piles of rubble of places where they once lived.
“I came to see if there was anything left, if there was anything I could save. We fled with nothing,” said Oussama al Bass, surveying the ruins of his home in Al-Zahra, south of Gaza City.
“Everything is lost,” he said. “We’re tired. Enough is enough. We can’t take it anymore.”
On the outskirts of Gaza City, families took to the road on foot to head south, pushing luggage and relatives in wheelchairs and carrying children in their arms.
Among the Israelis released on Sunday was Elma Avraham, 84, who was being treated at Soroka Medical Center, whose director Shlomi Kodesh said “her life is in danger,” but she was being treated and would be transferred to the care unit. intensive.
Also freed were the eight-year-old Ely sisters and their 15-year-old sister Dafna, whose father was shot dead during the Hamas attack.
In the previous round of releases, there were smiles, kisses and tears as Israeli hostage Sharon Avigdori, freed with her 12-year-old daughter Noam, hugged her son and relatives at Sheba hospital, images from the office showed. government press.
On Sunday, in Ramallah and Beitunia in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, white International Committee of the Red Cross buses delivered freed prisoners as a waiting crowd waved Hamas and Palestinian flags.
Noorhan Awad, a prisoner released Saturday, said that when she got out of the police car, “it was a great moment. Freedom is priceless.”
Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said on Sunday that the commander of its northern brigade, Ahmed Al-Ghandour, and four other senior leaders had been killed, without specifying when.
The pause in fighting has allowed more aid to reach Palestinians struggling to survive with shortages of water and other essential items, but Adnan Abu Hasna, spokesman for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), warned of needs “unprecedented” humanitarian actions.
“We should send 200 trucks a day continuously for at least two months,” he said.
The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated channel.)