Hamas releases 13 Israelis, 4 foreigners for 39 Palestinians after delay, mediators say

Hamas releases 13 Israelis, 4 foreigners for 39 Palestinians after delay, mediators say
Relatives and supporters of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons stage sit-in in front of the Red Cross in the West Bank city of Ramallah, calling for their release. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2023
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Hamas releases 13 Israelis, 4 foreigners for 39 Palestinians after delay, mediators say

Hamas releases 13 Israelis, 4 foreigners for 39 Palestinians after delay, mediators say
  • Hamas thanks Egypt, Qatar for helping maintain temporary truce with Israel
  • Hamas official earlier said Israel had not delivered agreed upon number of trucks to northern Gaza

GAZA: Hamas agreed to release 13 Israelis and four foreigners late Saturday in exchange for 39 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, Qatari and Egyptian mediators said, after the militant group delayed the second round of swaps for several hours and claimed that Israel had violated the terms of a truce deal.
The last-minute snag had created a tense standoff on the second day of what was meant to be a four-day cease-fire. By nightfall, as the hostages should have emerged from Gaza, Hamas alleged that the aid deliveries permitted by Israel fell short of what was promised and that not enough of the aid was reaching northern Gaza — the focus of Israel’s ground offensive and main combat zone. Hamas also said not enough veteran prisoners were freed in the first swap on Friday.
“This is putting the deal in danger and we have spoken to mediators about that,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said in Beirut. But Egypt, Qatar and Hamas itself later said obstacles had been overcome, and Hamas issued a statement listing six women and 33 boys and teenagers it said were expected to be released by the Israelis.
While uncertainty around the details of the exchange remained, there was some optimism, too, amid earlier scenes of joyous families reuniting on both sides.
On the first day of the four-day cease-fire, Hamas released 24 of the roughly 240 hostages taken during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison. Those freed in Gaza were 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino.
Overall, Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners, during the four-day truce — all woman and minors.
Israel has said the truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed — something US President Joe Biden said he hoped would occur.
Separately, a Qatari delegation arrived in Israel on Saturday to coordinate with parties on the ground and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly,” according to a diplomat briefed on the visit. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with the media.
The start of the pause brought quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent.
War-weary Palestinians in northern Gaza, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive, returned to the streets, crunching over rubble between shattered buildings and at times digging through it with bare hands. At the Indonesian hospital in Jabaliya, besieged by the Israeli military earlier this month, bodies lay in the courtyard and outside the main gate.
For Emad Abu Hajjer, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza City area, the pause meant he could again search through the remains of his home, which was flattened in an Israeli attack last week.
He found the bodies of a cousin and nephew, bring the death toll in the attack to 19. With his sister and two other relatives still missing, he resumed his digging Saturday.
“We want to find them and bury them in dignity,” he said.
The United Nations said the pause enabled it to scale up the delivery of food, water, and medicine to the largest volume since the resumption of aid convoys on Oct. 21. It was also able to deliver 129,000 liters (34,078 gallons) of fuel — just over 10 percent of the daily pre-war volume — as well as cooking gas, a first since the war began.
In the southern city of Khan Younis on Saturday, a long line of people with containers waited outside a filling station. Hossam Fayad lamented that the pause in fighting was only for four days.
“I wish it could be extended until people’s conditions improved,” he said.
For the first time in over a month, aid reached northern Gaza. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 61 trucks carrying food, water and medical supplies headed there on Saturday, the largest aid convoy to reach the area yet.
The UN said it and the Palestinian Red Crescent were also able to evacuate 40 patients and family members from a hospital in Gaza City, where much of the fighting has taken place, to a hospital in Khan Younis.
The relief brought by the cease-fire has been tempered, however. For Israelis, by the fact that not all hostages will be freed. For Palestinians, by the brevity of the pause.
At least two Palestinians were injured Saturday at a tense West Bank checkpoint where Israel was to free prisoners. Israeli security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinians gathered at Beitunia checkpoint. It was not clear how the two were injured.
FIRST HOSTAGES FREED
In Tel Aviv, several thousand people packed a central square called “the square of the hostages,” awaiting news of the second release.
“Don’t forget the others because it’s getting harder, harder and harder. It’s heartbreaking,” said Neri Gershon, a Tel Aviv resident. Some families have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of not doing enough to bring hostages home.
The freed Israelis included nine women and four children ages 9 and under. They were taken to Israeli hospitals for observation and were declared to be in good condition.
Hours later, 24 Palestinian women and 15 teenage boys held in Israeli prisons in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem were freed. The teenagers had been jailed for minor offenses like throwing stones. The women included several convicted of trying to stab Israeli soldiers.
“It’s a happiness tainted with sorrow because our release from prison came at the cost of the lives of martyrs and the innocence of children,” said one released prisoner, Aseel Munir Al-Titi.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.
A LONGER PEACE?
The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers.
“We will return immediately at the end of the cease-fire to attacking in Gaza, operating in Gaza,” Herzi Halevi, Israeli chief of staff, told soldiers.
Israeli leaders have said they won’t stop until Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the past 16 years, is crushed. Israeli officials have argued that only military pressure can bring the hostages home. But the government is under pressure from hostages’ families to prioritize the release of the remaining captives.
The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza government. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead. The figure does not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where communications have broken down.


International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran

International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran
Updated 19 April 2024
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International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran

International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran
  • Widespread calls for utmost restraint between Iran and Israel to avoid serious repercussions

PARIS: Here are some international reactions Friday after Israel’s reported attack on the Iranian province of Isfahan, where it has military bases and nuclear facilities:

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that it was “high time to stop the dangerous cycle of retaliation in the Middle East,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General condemns any act of retaliation and appeals to the international community to work together to prevent any further development that could lead to devastating consequences for the entire region and beyond,” Stephane Dujarric said.
RUSSIA
Russia has made clear to Israel that Iran “does not want escalation,” Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday, after reports Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes against its arch-rival.
“There have been telephone contacts between the leadership of Russia and Iran, our representatives and the Israelis. We made it very clear in these conversations, we told the Israelis that Iran does not want escalation,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russian radio stations.

UAE
The United Arab Emirates’ foreign ministry on Friday expressed concern about regional tensions in a statement, calling for ‘utmost restraint’ to avoid serious repercussions.
JORDAN
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Friday Israeli-Iranian retaliations must end, warning against danger of regional escalation.
GERMANY
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for de-escalation following a strike on the Iranian city of Isfahan and said Berlin would work with its partners in this direction.
“De-escalation remains the order of the day in the near future. And we will also talk about this with all our friends and allies, and work together with them in this direction,” Scholz told reporters on Friday.
G7

G7 foreign ministers Friday urged “all parties” to “work to prevent further escalation” in the Middle East, following reports that Israel had carried out revenge strikes on Iran.

“In light of reports of strikes on April 19th, we urge all parties to work to prevent further escalation. The G7 will continue to work to this end,” the Group of Seven industrialized nations said in a statement.

The ministers from Italy, the UK, US, France, Germany, Japan and Canada said they “demand that Iran and its affiliated groups cease their attacks”.

SPAIN

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called Friday for all sides to avoid “an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East” after reports that Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Iran.

“We must avoid any action that would lead to an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East. The seriousness of the moment demands responsibility and restraint from all parties,” he wrote on X.

JAPAN’S CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY YOSHIMASA HAYASHI

“Japan is deeply concerned about the situation in the Middle East and strongly condemn any actions that lead to the escalation of the situation.

“Japan will continue to make all necessary diplomatic efforts to prevent the situation from worsening further.”
CHINA
“China opposes any actions that further escalate tensions and will continue to play a constructive role to de-escalate the situation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian.
IAEA
“IAEA can confirm that there is no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites. Director General Rafael Grossi continues to call for extreme restraint from everybody and reiterates that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts. IAEA is monitoring the situation very closely,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said on X.
OMAN
“The Sultanate of Oman is following the continuing tension in the region and condemns the Israeli attack this morning on Isfahan,” the foreign ministry said, adding that it also “condemns and denounces Israel’s repeated military attacks in the region.
“Oman once again appeals to the international community to address the causes and roots of tension and conflict through dialogue, diplomacy and political solutions, and to focus on ceasefire efforts in Gaza and resort to international law and United Nations resolutions to reach a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue.”
EC PRESIDENT URSULA VON DER LEYEN
“We have to do everything possible (so) that all sides restrain from the escalation in that region ... It is absolutely necessary that the region stays stable and that all sides refrain from further action,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
UK
“We have condemned Iran’s reckless and dangerous barrage of missiles against Israel on Saturday and Israel absolutely has a right to self-defense. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu when I spoke to him (this week) and more generally, significant escalation is not in anyone’s interest, what we want to see is calm heads prevail across the region,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
ITALY
“We invite everyone to be cautious to avoid an escalation,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told RAI news on Capri where Italy is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations.
“This is something we from the government’s side take very seriously and are following very closely,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said.
“There has to be an end to the exchange of blows and escalation.”


Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels

Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels
Updated 19 April 2024
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Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels

Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels
  • Soaring temperatures in the embattled Palestinian enclave have prompted Gazan children to resort to the sea

RAFAH: Soaring temperatures in Gaza during the past week have driven thousands in the enclave’s southern city of Rafah to seek respite on beaches.

The proximity to Israeli military vessels did not stop hundreds of war-weary Gazans from bringing their children to enjoy a day of paddling and swimming, according to Arab News’ reporter in the embattled Palestinian enclave.

Many of the 1.4 million displaced Palestinians in Rafah live in makeshift shelters, including tents, on the beach, near the Egyptian border.

Since the Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip broke out on Oct. 7 last year, Gazans have been forced to resort to salty seawater for washing, bathing and even drinking due to the collapse of the water system.


Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights

Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights
Updated 19 April 2024
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Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights

Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights
  • Dubai International Airport temporarily limiting the number of arriving flights for 48 hours from 12 p.m. on Friday

DUBAI: Dubai’s flagship airline Emirates is suspending check-in for all customers with onward connections through the city until 2359 GMT on Friday, three days after a record storm swept the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates, one of the world’s biggest international airlines, said customers traveling to Dubai as their final destination may check-in and travel as usual.

The suspension shows the airline and its hub, Dubai International Airport, are still struggling to clear a backlog of flights after the UAE saw its heaviest rains in the 75 years records have been kept, bringing much of the country to a standstill for two days and causing significant damage.

Dubai International airport, one of the world’s busiest, later said it was temporarily limiting the number of arriving flights for 48 hours from 12 p.m. on Friday to speed up recovery operations from rain and flooding.

Thousands of passengers have been affected by flight cancelations this week, Dubai Airports Chief Executive Paul Griffiths told local radio station Dubai Eye on Friday, after the storm flooded taxiways.

The storm, which hit neighboring Oman on Sunday, pounded the UAE on Tuesday, with 20 reported dead in Oman and one in the UAE.

Dubai’s budget carrier flydubai meanwhile canceled flights to Iran on Friday after receiving an official alert, a statement said.

“In line with the issued NOTAM (notice to air missions), our flights to Iran today have been canceled,” said the statement.

One flight which had already departed for Tehran returned to Dubai after the Iranian capital’s airport was closed, it added.

Flights were suspended across swathes of Iran as Iranian state media reported explosions in the central province of Isfahan.

Flight-tracking software showed commercial flights avoiding western Iran, including Isfahan, and skirting Tehran to the north and east.

The main road that connects the UAE’s most populous emirate Dubai with Abu Dhabi remains partially closed, while an alternative route into Dubai requires vehicles to use a road that is entirely covered in floodwater where cars and buses have been abandoned.

In the UAE’s north, including in the emirate of Sharjah, people were reportedly still trapped in their homes, while others there said there had been extensive damage to businesses.

Rains are rare in the UAE and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, which is typically known for its dry desert climate where summer air temperatures can soar above 50 degrees Celsius.

The UAE’s National Center of Meteorology said on social platform X that Monday may see light rainfall by late night and forecast “a chance of light to moderate rainfall, might be heavy at times over some areas” for Tuesday, with a fall in temperatures over some coastal areas.


Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
Updated 19 April 2024
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Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
  • Drones shot down over Isfahan, says Iranian state media
  • Israel military refuses to comment on incident

DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Israeli missiles have hit a site in Iran, ABC News reported late on Thursday, citing a US official, while Iranian state media reported an explosion in the center of the country, days after Iran launched a retaliatory drone strike on Israel.

Commercial flights began diverting their routes early Friday morning over western Iran without explanation as one semiofficial news agency in the Islamic Republic claimed there had been “explosions” heard over the city of Isfahan.

Some Emirates and Flydubai flights that were flying over Iran early on Friday made sudden sharp turns away from the airspace, according to flight paths shown on tracking website Flightradar24.

“Flights over Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran cities have been suspended,” state media reported.

Iranian officials said its air defenses did shot down several drones but there had been “no missile attack for now” on the country.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning across several provinces after reports of explosions near the city of Isfahan.

Several drones “have been successfully shot down by the country’s air defense, there are no reports of a missile attack for now,” Iran’s space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian says on X.

The Fars news agency said “three explosions” were heard near the Shekari army airbase near Isfahan.

Iran’s local media also reported that nuclear facilities in Isfahan were “completely secure” after explosions were heard near the area.

“Nuclear facilities in Isfahan province are completely secure,” Tasnim news agency reports, quoting “reliable sources.”

Israel had said it would retaliate against Iran’s weekend attack, which involved hundreds of drones and missiles in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria. Most of the Iranian drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centerpiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Isfahan, Isome 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran, is also home to a major air base for the Iranian military.

Meanwhile in Iraq where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents in Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of the noise was not immediately clear.

In Syria, a local activist group said strikes hit an army position in the south of the country Friday. 

“There were strikes on a Syrian army radar position,” said Rayan Maarouf, who runs the Suwayda24 anti-government website that covers news from Sweida province in the south.

Iranian military positions in Syria had been frequently targetted by Israeli air strikes over the past years. Early this month, an Israeli strike demolished a consular building annex of the Iranian Embassy in Sydia's capital Damascus, killing 13 people, including two generals of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, triggering the Iranian missiles and drones attack on Israel on April 13.

At the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Iran urged member nations that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

Israel had said it was going to retaliate against Iran’s April 13 missile and drone attack.

Analysts and observers have been raising concerns about the risks of the Israel-Gaza war spreading into the rest of the region.

Oil prices and jumped on the reports of the Israeli strike. Brent crude futures rose 2 percent to $88.86 a barrel, the dollar gained broadly, gold rose 1 percent and S&P 500 futures dropped 1 percent.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military offensive has killed over 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the local health ministry.
Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, launching attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.


Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
Updated 19 April 2024
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Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
  • US media: United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran
  • Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation

DUBAI/JERUSALEM: Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged toward averting region-wide war.

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran’s air defenses hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators,” rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

An Iranian official said there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more toward infiltration than attack,” the official said.

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday’s strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East through six months of battle in Gaza.

The United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran but did not endorse the operation or play any part in its execution, US media quoted officials as saying.

NBC and CNN, citing sources familiar with the matter and a US official, respectively, said Israel had provided Washington with pre-notification of the strike.

Various networks cited officials confirming a strike had taken place inside Iran, with CNN quoting one official as stating the target was not a nuclear facility.

The two longstanding foes had been heading toward direct confrontation since a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general.

Iran’s response, with a direct attack on Israel, was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones.

Allies including the United States had since been pressing hard to ensure any further retaliation would be calibrated not to provoke a spiral of hostilities. The British and German foreign ministers visited Jerusalem this week, and Western countries tightened sanctions on Iran to mollify Israel.

In a sign of pressure within Israel’s hard-right government for a stronger response, Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister tweeted a single word after Friday’s strikes: “Feeble!.”

Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation.

“It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action,” EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said. Similar calls came from Beijing and from Arab states in the region.

In financial markets, global shares eased, oil prices surged and US bond yields fell as traders worried about the risks.

NO MENTION OF ISRAEL

Within Iran, news reports on Friday’s incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday’s strike that Tehran would deliver a “severe response” to any attack on its territory.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

By morning, Iran had reopened airports and airspace that were shut during the strikes.

Still, there was alarm over security in Israel and elsewhere. The US Embassy in Jerusalem restricted US government employees from travel outside Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Beersheba “out of an abundance of caution.”

In a statement, the embassy warned US citizens of a “continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning.”

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Hamas Islamists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military offensive has killed about 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gazan health ministry.

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, carrying out attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, raising fears the Gaza conflict could grow into a wider regional war.