Hamas frees first batch of hostages under truce, including 13 Israelis

Released hostages disembark from an ambulance, as a convoy of vehicles carrying hostages abducted by Hamas militants during the October 7 attack on Israel arrives through the border crossing with Gaza. (Al-Qahera News/Reuters)
Released hostages disembark from an ambulance, as a convoy of vehicles carrying hostages abducted by Hamas militants during the October 7 attack on Israel arrives through the border crossing with Gaza. (Al-Qahera News/Reuters)
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Updated 27 November 2023
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Hamas frees first batch of hostages under truce, including 13 Israelis

Hamas frees first batch of hostages under truce, including 13 Israelis
  • Pause silences guns raging since Hamas’ raids into Israel on October 7
  • 13 hostages held in Gaza freed, Israel to release 39 Palestinians prisoners, among them 24 women and 15 teenagers

GAZA STRIP: Hamas released the first batch of hostages under a cease-fire deal that began Friday, including 13 Israelis who have been held in the Gaza Strip since the militant group staged a raid on Israel nearly seven weeks ago, according to officials and media reports.
Twelve Thai nationals were also released, according to Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. Dozens of Palestinian prisoners are also expected to be freed by Israel.
The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas began Friday, setting the stage for the exchange and allowing sorely needed aid to start flowing into Gaza.
There were no reports of fighting after the truce began. The deal offered some relief for Gaza’s 2.3 million people, who have endured weeks of Israeli bombardment and dwindling supplies of basic necessities, as well as for families in Israel worried about loved ones taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which triggered the war.
The truce raised hopes of eventually winding down the conflict, which has flattened vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East. Israel, however, has said it is determined to resume its massive offensive once the cease-fire ends.
Under the deal, Gaza’s ruling Hamas group pledged to free at least 50 of the about 240 hostages it and other militants took in the Oct. 7 raid. In exchange, Hamas said Israel would free 150 Palestinian prisoners.
Both sides agreed to release women and children first, in stages starting Friday, and as planned 13 Israelis were released, according to Israeli media, citing security officials. An Israeli official, meanwhile, confirmed that the Thai captives left Gaza and were en route to a hospital in Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the releases with the media.
Israel said the deal calls for the truce to be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.
Early in the day, ambulances were seen arriving at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, preparing for the release. Those freed will then be taken to hospitals for assessment and treatment, Israeli officials said.
Among the Israeli citizens freed some have a second nationality, according to a Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details with the media.
Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 Palestinian prisoners eligible for release. Thirty-nine — 24 women, including some convicted of attempted murder for attacks on Israeli forces, and 15 teenagers jailed for offenses like throwing stones — were expected to be freed Friday, Palestinian authorities said.
On Friday, the truce brought quiet after weeks in which Gaza saw heavy bombardment and artillery fire daily as well as street fighting as ground troops advanced through neighborhoods in the north. The last report of air raid sirens in Israeli towns near the territory came shortly after the truce took effect.
Not long after, four tankers with fuel and four with cooking gas entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt, Israel said.
Israel has agreed to allow the delivery of 130,000 liters (34,340 gallons) of fuel per day during the truce — still only a small portion of Gaza’s estimated daily needs of more than 1 million liters.
For most of the past seven weeks of war, Israel had barred the entry of fuel to Gaza, claiming it could be used by Hamas for military purposes — though it has occasionally allowed small amounts in.
UN aid agencies pushed back against the claim, saying fuel deliveries were closely supervised and urgently needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe since fuel is required to run generators that power water treatment facilities, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
The Israeli military dropped leaflets over southern Gaza, warning hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who sought refuge there not to return to their homes in the territory’s north, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive.
Even though Israel warned that it would block such attempts, hundreds of Palestinians could be seen walking north Friday.
Two were shot and killed by Israeli troops and another 11 were wounded. An Associated Press journalist saw the two bodies and the wounded as they arrived at a hospital.
Sofian Abu Amer, who had fled Gaza City, said he decided to risk heading north to check on his home.
“We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” he said. ”The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.”
The hope is that “momentum” from the deal will lead to an “end to this violence,” said Majed Al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which served as a mediator along with the United States and Egypt.
But hours before it came into effect, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was quoted telling troops that their respite would be short and that the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also vowed to continue the war to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, end its 16-year rule in Gaza and return all the hostages.
Israel’s northern border with Lebanon was also quiet on Friday, a day after the militant Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting there began Oct. 8.
Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire agreement, but was widely expected to halt its attacks.
The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers.
The soldiers will only be released in exchange for all Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, according to the Islamic Jihad militant group, which is reportedly holding about 40 hostages.
It is not clear how many of the hostages are currently serving in the military or whether the militants also consider reserve soldiers to be “military hostages.”
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians on security charges or convictions, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.
The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which resumed its detailed count of casualties in Gaza after stopping for weeks because of the health system’s collapse in the north.
The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing, feared buried under rubble.
The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead, though the new number was not broken down. The figure does not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north.
Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.


Egypt keen to work with partners to find swift solution to Sudan crisis, foreign minister says

Egypt keen to work with partners to find swift solution to Sudan crisis, foreign minister says
Updated 14 sec ago
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Egypt keen to work with partners to find swift solution to Sudan crisis, foreign minister says

Egypt keen to work with partners to find swift solution to Sudan crisis, foreign minister says
  • African Union official praises Cairo during talks in Ghana for its pivotal role in efforts to enhance regional security and stability
  • Abdelatty emphasized the need to support the Somali government’s efforts to enhance security and stability

CAIRO: Egypt earned praise during talks on Monday in Accra, Ghana, for the pivotal role it plays in efforts to enhance security and stability on the African continent.

Bankole Adeoye, the African Union’s commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said he was keen to continue to coordinate with Cairo on all priority issues related to the bloc.

It came as he held talks with Badr Abdelatty, Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs, emigration and Egyptian expatriates, on the sidelines of the sixth Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities.

They discussed the latest political and security developments in the crisis in Sudan and agreed on the need to unite the country’s civil political forces, preserve national unity and institutions, and coordinate regional and international mediation.

Abdelatty said Egypt was aware of the seriousness of the situation and eager to work with all partners and mechanisms to resolve the crisis swiftly. He stressed the importance of fully involving Sudan in talks about ways to resolve the situation, to preserve “our Sudanese brothers’ ownership of these solutions and proposals.”

The minister welcomed consultations and coordination with the African Union’s commissioner on peace and security in Africa. He said Egypt remains committed to support of the organization and its agencies, and to participation in its Peace and Security Council, in pursuit of peace and stability.

Abdelatty emphasized the need for increased consultation and coordination between member states and the union’s agencies in response to escalating security challenges on the continent, the expanding scope of conflicts and the associated human suffering.

He also outlined Egypt’s agenda and planned activities for its chairmanship of the Peace and Security Council in October. He said its plans prioritize the operationalization of the African Union Center for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development, an effort that President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has led within the union to support countries facing multiple crises.

Egypt welcomed the approval by the Peace and Security Council of a request from the Somali government to extend the time frame for the third phase of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, Abdelatty said. He highlighted plans for the deployment of a new mission in the country when the current one expires, and emphasized the need to support the Somali government’s efforts to enhance security and stability.

Adeoye and Abdelatty also discussed other issues of mutual concern, including the Great Lakes issue, the Renaissance Dam, security challenges in the Red Sea, and the situation in the Horn of Africa.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intercepted UAE-managed tanker, Ambrey says

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intercepted UAE-managed tanker, Ambrey says
Updated 9 min 24 sec ago
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intercepted UAE-managed tanker, Ambrey says

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intercepted UAE-managed tanker, Ambrey says
  • Vessel had loaded marine gas oil off the coast of Iraq and was destined for Sharjah when it was intercepted on Sunday 61NM southwest of Iran’s port of Bushehr

DUBAI: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have intercepted a Togo-flagged, UAE-managed products tanker carrying 1,500 tons of marine gas oil, British security firm Ambrey said on Monday.
The vessel had loaded marine gas oil off the coast of Iraq and was destined for UAE’s Sharjah when it was intercepted on Sunday 61 nautical miles southwest of Iran’s port of Bushehr, Ambrey said.
Ambrey added that the incident is unlikely to be politically motivated and is not assessed as a ‘war’ event.
The interception was likely a counter-smuggling operation by the IRGC, as the vessel’s “trading behavior was consistent with previous IRGC target profile,” Ambrey said.
Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the plunge in the value of its currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling to neighboring countries.
No further information was provided regarding the fate of the vessel.


UN warns Iraq becoming major regional drug conduit

Iraq’s premier Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends an anti-drug conference held with regional officials in Baghdad on July 22, 2024.
Iraq’s premier Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends an anti-drug conference held with regional officials in Baghdad on July 22, 2024.
Updated 22 July 2024
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UN warns Iraq becoming major regional drug conduit

Iraq’s premier Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends an anti-drug conference held with regional officials in Baghdad on July 22, 2024.
  • “Iraq appears to be at the nexus of regional trafficking routes for both methamphetamine and captagon,” UNODC said
  • Authorities in Iraq regularly announce large seizures of captagon, much of it moved across the border with Syria

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities seized record quantities of the potent stimulant captagon last year, at an estimated value of up to $144 million, with the country increasingly a critical drug conduit, a UN report said Monday.
“Iraq has been experiencing a dramatic surge in drug trafficking and consumption for the past five years,” according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report.
In 2023 alone, authorities “seized a record-high 24 million captagon tablets,” the equivalent of over 4.1 tons, with an estimated “retail value” of between $84 million and $144 million, it said.
“Iraq appears to be at the nexus of regional trafficking routes for both methamphetamine and captagon,” UNODC said, adding that it is “becoming a critical juncture in the complex trafficking dynamics observed in the Near and Middle East region.”
Captagon seizures in Iraq “reportedly tripled between 2022 and 2023, and overall amounts seized in 2023 are 34 times higher than in 2019.”
An amphetamine derived from a once-legal treatment for narcolepsy and attention disorder, captagon today is trafficked through several Middle Eastern countries, with Syria the main country of origin.
Authorities in conflict-scarred Iraq regularly announce large seizures of captagon, much of it moved across the porous 600-kilometer (370-mile) border with war-torn Syria.
According to UNODC, 82 percent of the captagon seized in the region between 2019 and 2023 originated in Syria, followed by neighboring Lebanon, at 17 percent.
Iraq faces an explosion in domestic drug use, with the repeated crises that have gripped the conflict-ridden country of 43 million people driving up usage.
During an anti-drug conference attended by regional officials, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani called for regional cooperation.
“Coordinating and cooperating to pursue and dismantle drug gangs will serve regional and international security,” he said, adding that “Iraq is open to all cooperation” to fight “cross-border crime.”
“We will support any effort aiming to eliminate drug hubs, manufacturing stations, and cutting off their supply chains.”


UN expert urges probe of Iran ‘genocide’ in 1980s

UN expert urges probe of Iran ‘genocide’ in 1980s
Updated 22 July 2024
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UN expert urges probe of Iran ‘genocide’ in 1980s

UN expert urges probe of Iran ‘genocide’ in 1980s
  • UN Special rapporteur says the Iranian regime and its leaders should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes

GENEVA: A United Nations expert called Monday for an international investigation into a range of “atrocity crimes” committed in Iran in connection with a purge of dissidents in the 1980s.
“There should be no impunity for such gross human rights violations, regardless of when they were committed,” said Javaid Rehman, the UN’s independent special rapporteur on the rights situation in Iran, insisting that “the Iranian regime and its leaders should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes against humanity and genocide.”


Hostages forum says two captives died while held by Hamas in Gaza

Hostages forum says two captives died while held by Hamas in Gaza
Updated 22 July 2024
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Hostages forum says two captives died while held by Hamas in Gaza

Hostages forum says two captives died while held by Hamas in Gaza
  • The forum did not provide any information on how they had died

JERUSALEM: Israeli campaign group the Hostages and Missing Families Forum announced on Monday that two captives held by Hamas in Gaza had died.
The deaths of Yagev Buchshtab, 35, and Alex Dancyg, 76, who were abducted during the October 7 attack by Hamas, are a “stark reminder of the urgency” to bring the hostages home, the forum said in a statement.
It did not provide any information on how they had died.
“Their bodies are being held by the Hamas terror organization,” the Israeli military said in a separate statement.
“The circumstances of their death in Hamas captivity are being examined by all the professional authorities.”
Buchshtab was abducted from his home in Kibbutz Nirim along with his wife Rimon Buchshtab-Kirsht, who was released after 50 days in captivity, the forum said.
Dancyg, who was born to Holocaust survivors, worked at Yad Vashem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Institute, and trained thousands of guides there, it added.
Hostages who were held captive with him reported that Dancyg spent his time in captivity giving history lectures to fellow captives, the forum said.
“Yagev and Alex were taken alive and should have returned alive to their families and to their country,” the forum said.
“Their death in captivity is a tragic reflection of the consequences of foot-dragging in negotiations,” it said referring to ceasefire talks that have dragged on for months.
During the October 7 attack, Hamas militants seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 44 the Israeli military and officials say are dead.
The attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.