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

Hamas frees first batch of hostages under truce, including 13 Israelis
Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 24, 2023. (Hamas Military Wing via REUTERS)
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Updated 24 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

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.


Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official
Updated 13 sec ago
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Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official
  • Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit met with the UN’s Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat
  • UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has told a senior UN official that he fears the conflict in Gaza could spiral out control and threaten regional security.

In a meeting in Cairo with Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat, head of mission and chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, Aboul Gheit highlighted the need to implement the UN Security Council’s ceasefire resolution, and provide urgent humanitarian aid to the famine-stricken population in Gaza.

Gamal Roshdy, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the meeting discussed the regional situation, with Aboul Gheit saying that Israel’s war on Gaza violated international law and humanitarian principles.

The UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN, including the Blue Line, which delineates the truce between Lebanon and Israel.

Aboul Gheit said that political resolutions remain the most effective means to ensure security for all parties.

However, achieving such resolutions remains challenging while Israel pursue its objectives through military force and by targeting civilians, he said.

According to the UNTSO website, the Security Council, in Resolution 50 (1948), called for a cessation of hostilities in Palestine on May 29, 1948, and decided that the UN Mediator should supervise the truce with the assistance of a group of military observers.

The first group of military observers, established in 1949 to supervise the implementation of the Israel-Arab Armistice Agreements, became known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization.

UNTSO observers in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating, and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.


King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis
Updated 32 min 37 sec ago
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King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis
  • Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad pledge joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza
  • King Hamad and El-Sisi also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad of Bahrain have pledged joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza and its effects on the region.

El-Sisi received King Hamad in Cairo on Wednesday, where the leaders expressed hope that peace efforts would lead to a new path for the region, offering a future in which they work together toward prosperity.

King Hamad told a joint press conference that the president and he also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month.

The leaders emphasized the need for clear policies to promote peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

The king said he discussed several issues with El-Sisi to enhance Arab cooperation.

El-Sisi said he and King Hamad deliberated “on our countries’ efforts and joint Arab action to address this untenable situation, bring it to an end, and, above all, prevent its recurrence.”

The Egyptian leader added: “For this to happen, the international community shall stand united to enforce an immediate, urgent, and lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, end any attempts of coerced displacement, starvation, or collective punishment of the brotherly Palestinian people, and ensure the full-fledged, unfettered and sustainable flow of sufficient quantities of desperately needed humanitarian aid and relief to the sector.

“In parallel, the parties shall immediately embark, in earnest, on tracks conducive to a just and enduring political solution to the Palestinian cause, based on the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, enjoying both international acknowledgment and full membership of the UN.”

El-Sisi said Egypt had repeatedly warned of the dire consequences likely to result from the ongoing war in occupied Palestine, where the conflict leads to calls for escalation and retribution, creating a cycle of violence that destroys any chance for peace and stability in the region.

“Indeed, over the past few months, the region has been experiencing the devastating consequences of the ongoing war as its flames spiraled outward, creating the current intensely fraught and perilous state in the region that gravely jeopardizes the security, stability, and future of our people,” he added.

El-Sisi said that the leaders “thoroughly discussed these troubling regional developments and our visions for addressing them, driven by our shared belief in the crucial importance of safeguarding the security and stability of the region and its peoples against multiple threats and of not abandoning their fate to the will of warmongers. This commitment is grounded in the principle of prioritizing common Arab security, which we consider as indivisible.”

El-Sisi said that the two leaders agreed on the need to exert and encourage immediate and intensive efforts toward de-escalation in the Palestinian territories and at regional level.

“We also discussed the importance of urging the parties to adopt a rational approach, embrace political solutions, and abandon military solutions and notions of dominance and hegemony,” the president said.

El-Sisi said: “Today, we are gathering at a time of great peril as a result of the bloody Israeli war on the Gaza Strip and the inexorable loss of thousands of helpless and innocent civilians in scenes of untold horror.

“They have done nothing more than live in their land, clinging to their homes and homeland, and yearning for a life with dignity, pride, and humanity.

“It is unequivocally a watershed moment that will endure in the annals of history, given the outrageous use of military force to terrorize, starve, and inflict unimaginable suffering on innocent civilians, collectively and indiscriminately, to terrify them into abandoning their homes and forcibly displace them from their land.

“All this unfolds while the international community stands by idly, with its ability or will to uphold justice and enforce international law, international humanitarian law, or even the basic tenets of humanity, utterly crippled,” El-Sisi said.


US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 18 April 2024
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US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.


Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
Updated 18 April 2024
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Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
  • “We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said
  • Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike

JERUSALEM: Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran.
The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Weeks of talks toward an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack on Israel, also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.
The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths.
Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.
The international community has urged de-escalation since Iran’s attack on Israel which came after months of high tensions and violence involving Israel and Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.
Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike.
However, Tehran had also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States, which is Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region.”
Washington has made clear it won’t join any Israeli attack on Iran, but has pledged to instead impose new punitive sanctions against Iran.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said Netanyahu, after discussions with US President Joe Biden, decided not to proceed with pre-arranged plans for retaliatory strikes on Iran.
“Diplomatic sensitivities came into play,” a senior Israeli official told Kan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added that there would be a response, but that it would be different to the one initially planned.
US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Israeli sources, reported that Israel had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week.”
Among the range of possible responses considered by Israel were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.
German airline Lufthansa extended its suspension of flights to and from Tehran and Beirut to the end of April and said its planes would continue avoiding Iranian airspace.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed a European Union announcement of sanctions on Iran as “an important step” and wrote on X that “Iran must be stopped now before it is too late.”
Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.
“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said.
An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight.
The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.
The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll on Thursday from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.
Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.
Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood, the civil defense service said.
One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place.”
Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials.
He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar,” which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected this, saying Israeli efforts were “above and beyond” what is needed “on the humanitarian issue,” his office said.
The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.
However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move.


Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
Updated 18 April 2024
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Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
  • The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport will return to its full operational capacity within 24 hours, Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al-Joker told state news agency WAM on Thursday.
The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
“Once operations are back to normal, we will assess the damages and would be able to give figure for the size of losses,” Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV in a televised interview.