Israel and Hamas have agreed to extend their cease-fire for an additional two days, which brings hope for the release of more hostages held by militants in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
This extension also means a longer pause in their devastating and deadly conflict.
Eleven Israeli women and children, who were released by Hamas, arrived in Israel on Monday night after spending over seven weeks in captivity in Gaza. This marks the fourth exchange that took place during the initial four-day truce, which started on Friday and was set to expire. A group of thirty-three Palestinian prisoners, who had been released by Israel, arrived in east Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah early Tuesday. The prisoners received a warm welcome with enthusiastic cheers as their bus traveled through the streets of Ramallah.
The announcement of a two-day extension to the cease-fire has brought a glimmer of hope, as it paves the way for potential future extensions and the much-needed delivery of aid to Gaza. The situation in that area has been extremely difficult for 2.3 million Palestinians, who have been severely affected by weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground offensive. As a result, three-quarters of the population have been forced to leave their homes.
Israel has announced its decision to extend the cease-fire, granting an additional day for every 10 hostages released. Following the announcement made by Qatar, a significant mediator in the conflict, alongside the United States and Egypt, Hamas has confirmed its agreement to a two-day extension “under the same terms.
Israel maintains its commitment to neutralizing Hamas’ military capabilities and putting an end to its 16-year rule over Gaza, following the attack on southern Israel on October 7th. It is possible that this would involve extending a ground offensive from the severely affected northern Gaza to the southern region.
Monday’s releases bring the total number of Israelis freed under the truce to 51, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. Up to this point, 150 Palestinians have been freed from Israeli prisons.
Following weeks of intense national distress caused by the abduction of approximately 240 individuals by Hamas and other militant groups, the heartwarming scenes of women and children reuniting with their families have ignited a strong sense of unity among Israelis. This has led to a resounding call for the safe return of those who are still held captive.
We have the ability to safely bring all hostages back to their homes. “We must continue to persevere,” stated two family members of Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl and dual Israeli-American citizen who was recently released on Sunday.
There is a possibility that Hamas and other militants are still holding up to 175 hostages, which could potentially lead to an extension of the cease-fire for an additional two and a half weeks. However, there are several soldiers involved, and it is expected that Hamas will have more significant demands for their release.
The hostages who were recently released consisted of three women and nine children, including 3-year-old twin girls and their mother. They were from the kibbutz Nir Oz, a community near Gaza that suffered greatly in Hamas’ attack on October 7th. According to the kibbutz, 49 residents are still being held captive, including the father of the twins. Late Monday, the Israeli military announced that the hostages were receiving their initial medical evaluations in Israel and would soon be reunited with their loved ones.
The majority of the hostages who have been released thus far seem to be in good physical condition. However, Elma Avraham, who is 84 years old, was airlifted to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in a life-threatening condition due to insufficient care, as stated by the hospital.
Tali Amano, Avraham’s daughter, expressed that her mother’s condition was critical when she arrived at the hospital. Avraham is currently under sedation and is using a breathing tube. However, Amano mentioned that she informed her mother about the birth of a new great-grandchild while she was in captivity.
According to Amano, Avraham had been managing multiple chronic conditions and taking regular medications. However, her health was stable prior to the unfortunate incident of her kidnapping.
Up to this point, a total of 19 individuals from different nationalities have been released during the ceasefire, with the majority being Thai citizens. A significant number of Thai individuals are employed in Israel, primarily in agricultural labor.
France confirmed that three of the hostages who were released on Monday are dual citizens of France and Israel. They include two 12-year-olds and one 16-year-old. The French government is making significant efforts to secure the release of five additional French citizens who are being held hostage, according to a statement from the French Foreign Ministry.
Many of the Palestinian prisoners who have been released thus far are teenagers who were accused of engaging in confrontations with Israeli forces, such as throwing stones and firebombs, or committing less-serious offenses. However, a number of individuals were found guilty of purportedly planning stabbings, bombings, and shootings. Many Palestinians see prisoners held by Israel, even those involved in attacks, as heroes who are resisting occupation.
The released hostages have largely remained out of the public spotlight, but some information about their time in captivity has begun to emerge.
According to Merav Raviv, who has a personal connection to three hostages that were recently released, it was reported that they had experienced irregular feeding patterns and had lost weight during their captivity. According to the report, the individual’s diet primarily consisted of bread and rice, while their sleeping arrangements involved using chairs pushed together as a makeshift bed. According to her, hostages would occasionally have to wait for extended periods to access the bathroom.
John Kirby, the spokesman for the White House National Security Council, expressed his approval of the truce extension in Washington.
“We would, of course, be glad to see the pause extended further, and that will depend upon Hamas continuing to release hostages,” Kirby told reporters.
A Moment of Relief in Gaza
According to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, over 13,300 Palestinians have lost their lives since the war started. Shockingly, around two-thirds of these casualties are women and minors. It is worth noting that the Health Ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in their data. Over 1,200 individuals have tragically lost their lives on the Israeli side, with a significant number of them being innocent civilians who fell victim to the initial attack. Tragically, the death toll in Israel’s ground offensive has risen to 77 soldiers.
Amidst the temporary ceasefire, the aftermath of the Israeli bombardment became visible, revealing the devastating impact on entire neighborhoods that were reduced to rubble.
The footage revealed a devastating scene in the northern town of Beit Hanoun, where a complex of numerous multistory residential buildings had been reduced to a landscape of debris and destruction. Almost every structure lay in ruins or suffered extensive damage, with some reduced to mere skeletal remains. At a U.N. school close by, the buildings remained standing, although they showed signs of damage from fire and had numerous holes.
Due to the Israeli assault, a significant number of Gaza’s population has been displaced from their homes, resulting in the majority of its 2.3 million people being concentrated in the southern region. Over 1 million people currently reside in U.N. shelters. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south have been prevented from returning north by the Israeli military.
The rain and wind compounded the difficulties faced by displaced Palestinians seeking shelter in the compound of Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza. Amidst the tents set up on the muddy grounds, Palestinians in coats skillfully baked flatbreads over a makeshift fire.
According to Alaa Mansour, the conditions are extremely terrible.
“My clothes are soaked, and I can’t change them,” Mansour, who has a disability, expressed. I haven’t had any water in the past two days, and unfortunately, there’s no restroom available.
According to the U.N., the truce has allowed for a significant increase in the delivery of essential supplies such as food, water, and medicine, reaching the highest levels seen since the war began. However, the number of trucks per day, which ranges from 160 to 200, is still significantly lower than the amount Gaza used to import before the conflict, despite the increasing humanitarian demands.
Long lines formed outside stations distributing cooking fuel, finally allowed in for the first time. The U.N. has reported that fuel for generators has been provided to key service providers, such as hospitals and water and sanitation facilities. However, bakeries have unfortunately been unable to resume their work.
Iyad Ghafary, a vendor in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, expressed concern about the difficulties faced by families in retrieving the deceased from the rubble caused by Israeli airstrikes. He also highlighted the lack of resources and capacity of local authorities to handle the extensive destruction.
Some argue that the assistance provided is insufficient.
Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who escaped from northern Gaza, expressed her frustration at only receiving one canned meal from a U.N. distribution center since the cease-fire started.
According to her, the local markets and gas stations are being inundated with crowds as people rush to purchase essential items. “People were desperate and went out to buy whenever they could,” she stated. There is a great deal of concern about the possibility of the war resurfacing.