Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas
Thai nationals gesture from a bus as they leave the Shamir Hospital in Ramle, Israel, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, on their way back to Thailand, after being released from Hamas custody. (AP)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas

Israeli military says 10 Israelis, four Thai nationals, have been released by Hamas
  • International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said 10 Israelis and four Thai nationals were released late Wednesday from captivity in the Gaza Strip.
The hostages crossed into Egypt and were to be transferred to Israel.
It was the sixth such release under a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel is to release 30 Palestinian prisoners later Wednesday.
The cease-fire is set to expire early Thursday. International mediators are trying to extend the deal to facilitate the release of additional hostages held by Hamas.
The militant group captured some 240 people in an Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Some 150 people are believed to remain in captivity.
A new swap of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel got underway late Wednesday in the final hours of the current Gaza truce as international mediators raced to extend the halt of Israel’s air and ground offensive to allow further exchanges.
The Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals had been handed over by Hamas to the Red Cross in Gaza and were heading to exit the territory. Earlier, two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release. Israel was set to free 30 Palestinian prisoners in return.
Negotiators were working down to the wire to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce beyond its deadline of early Thursday. The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, and the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.
International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis. Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war
“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”
He spoke ahead of a visit to the region planned this week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian boys — an 8-year-old an a 15-year-old — during a raid on the town of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said. Security footage showed a group of boys in the street who start to run, except for one who falls to the ground, bleeding.
The Israeli military said its troops fired on people who threw explosives at them but did not specify it was referring to the boys, who are not seen throwing anything. Separately, the military said its troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants during the raid.
So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas’ rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the cease-fire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages. Hamas leaders, including Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.
With Israeli troops holding much of northern Gaza, a ground invasion south will likely bring an escalating cost in Palestinian lives and destruction.
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south. The truce has brought them relief from bombardment, but the days of calm have been taken up in a frenzied rush to obtain supplies to feed their families as aid enters in greater, but still insufficient, amounts.
United States, Israel’s main ally, has shown greater reticence over the impact of the war in Gaza. The Biden administration has told Israel that if it launches an offensive in the south, it must operate with far greater precision.
ISRAEL’S HOSTAGE DILEMMA
The plight of the captives and shock from the Oct. 7 attack have galvanized Israeli support for the war. But Netanyahu is under pressure to bring the hostages home and could find it difficult to resume the offensive if there’s a prospect for more releases.
Since the initial truce began on Friday, both sides have been releasing women and children in their exchanges. After Friday’s releases, Gaza militants still hold around 20 women, accordding to Israeli officials. IF the truce continues at the current rate, they would be out in a few days.
After that, keeping the truce going depends on tougher negotiations over the release of around 126 men Israel says are held captive – including several dozen soldiers.
For men — and especially soldiers — Hamas is expected to push for comparable releases of Palestinian men or prominent detainees, a deal Israel may resist.
An Israeli official involved in hostage negotiations said talks on a further extension for release of civilian males and soldiers were still preliminary, and a deal would not be considered until all the women and children are out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing.
With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.
So far, most of the 180 Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.
Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decades-long military occupation of lands they want for a future state.
The war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel, in which it killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants kidnapped some 240 people back into Gaza, including babies, children, women, soldiers, older adults and Thai farm laborers.
Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11 due to the breakdown of services in the north. The ministry says thousands more people are missing and feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
TENSE CALM IN GAZA
For Palestinians in Gaza, the truce’s calm has been overwhelmed by the search for aid and by horror as they see the extent of destruction.
In the north, residents described entire residential blocks leveled to the ground in Gaza City and surrounding areas. The smell of decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings fills the air, said Mohmmed Mattar, a 29-year-old resident of Gaza City who along with other volunteers searches for the dead under rubble or left in the streets.
They have found and buried 46 so far during the truce, he said. Most were unidentified. More bodies remain inside rubble but can’t be reached without heavy equipment, or are left on streets that are unapproachable because of Israeli troops nearby, Mattar said.
In the south, the truce has allowed more aid to be delivered from Egypt, up to 200 trucks a day. But aid officials say it is not enough, given that most now depend on outside aid. Overwhelmed UN-run shelters house more than 1 million displaced people, with many sleeping outside in cold, rainy weather.
At a distribution center in Rafah, large crowds line daily up for newly arrived bags of flour. But supplies run out quickly before many can get their share.
“We’ve been searching for bread for our children,” said one woman in line, Nawal Abu Namous. “Every day, we come here … we spend money on transportation to get here, just to go home with nothing.”
Some markets and shops have reopened, but prices for the few items in stock have skyrocketed. Winter clothes are unavailable. One clothes shop owner in Deir Al-Balah told The Associated Press that he hates opening his doors in the morning, knowing he’ll spend most of the day apologizing to customers for not having winter items.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said some 111,000 people have respiratory infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under 5 years old. “More people could die from disease than bombings.”
“We are fed up,” said Omar Al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza. “We want this war to stop.”


Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Updated 21 sec ago
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Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 12 suspected human traffickers for allegedly organizing high-speed transfers for at least 73 illegal migrants from Tunisia to Europe.
Expert pilots operated the speed boats crossing from Tunisia to Marsala in Sicily between June and September last year, police said in a statement, describing them as “VIP trips.”
The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros ($6,500) per person, the statement said.
The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant, an official with knowledge of the matter said.
Italy and other European governments have taken an increasingly
hard line
on immigration in recent years amid a surge of arrivals of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. EU data shows fewer than 100,000 irregular migrants made to it Europe in 2020, but that rose to 250,000 last year.
Six Tunisians and six Italians were detained as part of an investigation coordinated by European police body Europol and the Italian anti-mafia police unit.
The investigators identified a Tunisian former police officer as the head of the trafficking organization.
They also held 19 illegal migrants and arrested eight Tunisian boat operators last year during the initial part of the investigation. Four of the boat crew were also charged over firing naval flares at a military vessel during an attempt to evade being apprehended by authorities.
Since the beginning of the year, 4,247 illegal migrants have landed on Italy’s shores, data from the home affairs ministry shows. That is down from more than 12,500 at the same stage in 2023, when Italy recorded unprecedented pressure from the number of people trying to reach Europe.
Tunisia has replaced Libya as North Africa’s main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict elsewhere in Africa and across the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.
This month, 17 migrants coming from Tunisia went missing during their sea voyage and at least nine died in two separate accidents.

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo
Updated 32 min 46 sec ago
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Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo
  • Top White House official Brett McGurk in Cairo for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas
  • UN WFP halted aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence”

GAZA: Heavy fighting rocked besieged Gaza on Wednesday as aid agencies warned of looming famine, a day after a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was blocked by a US veto.
Washington, which argued the resolution would have imperilled ongoing efforts to free hostages, sent top White House official Brett McGurk to Cairo for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas.
Global concern has spiralled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel.
Combat and chaos again stalled the sporadic aid deliveries for desperate civilians in Gaza, where the UN has warned the population of 2.4 million is on the brink of famine and could face an “explosion” of child deaths.
The UN World Food Programme said it was forced to halt aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence” after a truck convoy encountered gunfire and was ransacked by looters.
More Israeli strikes pounded Gaza, leaving 103 people dead during the night, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, which put the overall death toll at 29,313.
“We can’t take it anymore,” said Ahmad, a resident of Gaza City, where entire blocks are in ruins and cratered streets are strewn with rubble.
“We do not have flour, we don’t even know where to go in this cold weather,” he said. “We demand a ceasefire. We want to live.”
Particular concern has centered on Gaza’s far-southern Rafah area, where 1.4 million people now live in crowded shelters and makeshift tents, fearing attack by nearby Israeli ground troops.
Aid groups warn a ground offensive could turn Rafah into a “graveyard” and the United States has said the vast numbers of displaced civilians must first be moved out of harm’s way.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that “without properly accounting for the safety and security of those refugees, we continue to believe that an operation in Rafah would be a disaster.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining 130 hostages, around 30 of whom are feared dead.
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz has warned that, unless Hamas releases the captives by the start of Ramadan around March 10, the army will keep fighting during the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah.
Humanitarian crisis
The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages, many of whom were released during a week-long truce in late November.
Israel has heavily bombed Gaza and launched a ground invasion that has seen troops and tanks push through from the north toward the south, leaving vast swathes entirely destroyed.
The World Health Organization called the devastation “indescribable” around Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where it said it managed to evacuate some 32 patients.
“The area was surrounded by burnt and destroyed buildings, heavy layers of debris, with no stretch of intact road,” WHO said.
The clinic has no power or running water, it added, and “medical waste and garbage are creating a breeding ground for disease.”
Major powers have tried to navigate a way out of the crisis, so far without success.
On Tuesday the UN Security Council voted on an Algeria-drafted resolution which demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages.
The United States vetoed the resolution, which it labelled “wishful and irresponsible,” drawing strong criticism from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and even close ally France.
Hamas said the US veto amounted to “a green light for the occupation to commit more massacres.”
Ongoing negotiations
Washington sent McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, to Egypt as part of efforts to advance a hostage deal, before he heads to Israel Thursday.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was already in Cairo for talks, the militant group said — days after mediators warned that prospects for a truce had dimmed despite repeated talks.
Qatar and Egypt have proposed a plan to free hostages in return for a pause in fighting and the release of Palestinian prisoners, but Israel and Hamas have so far failed to agree on a deal.
McGurk will hold talks “to see if we can’t get this hostage deal in place,” Kirby told reporters.
As the bloodiest ever Gaza war has continued into a fifth month, Israel has faced a growing international chorus of criticism.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro accused Israel of “genocide” after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had compared the Gaza campaign to the Holocaust.
The war has set off clashes elsewhere in the Middle East, drawing in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Israel has traded almost daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and US and British forces have hit Yemen’s Houthi rebels to deter their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
In Syria, state television said an Israeli missile strike killed at least two people in Damascus, a claim Israel declined to comment on.
Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank where the Israeli army said its troops killed three Palestinian militants during an overnight raid in the northern city of Jenin.


Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon

Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon
Updated 49 min 44 sec ago
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Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon

Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon
  • Woman and girl were killed in the strike in Majdal Zoun

BEIRUT: An Israeli strike killed a woman and a child in south Lebanon on Wednesday, sources in Lebanon said, days after Hezbollah vowed to inflict a price on Israel for killing civilians in the conflict across the Israeli-Lebanese border.
The woman and girl were killed in the strike in Majdal Zoun, a village some 6 km (4 miles) from the border, according to two security sources and a medical source.
The Iran-backed movement Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by its Palestinian ally Hamas on southern Israel, in a campaign Hezbollah says aims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
A statement from Israeli army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Avichay Adraee on X said the Israeli army had carried out an attack on “a military building” in the village of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, and that Israeli warplanes had launched raids on three Hezbollah operational headquarters in the south.
It did not mention Majdal Zoun, which is about an hour’s drive from Yaroun.
Hezbollah signalled on Friday it would escalate attacks on Israel in response to the deaths of 10 Lebanese civilians killed in Israeli attacks last week.
Hezbollah announced more than half a dozen attacks on Israeli positions on Wednesday.
Israeli strikes since Oct. 8 have killed some 50 civilians in Lebanon, in addition to nearly 200 Hezbollah fighters.
Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli troops and five civilians.
The violence has uprooted tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.


Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state

Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state
Updated 58 min 11 sec ago
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Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state

Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state
  • Israel say permanent accord with the Palestinians would have to be reached through direct negotiations, and not by international dictates

JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament voted on Wednesday to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration opposing the ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state, following growing international calls for the revival of efforts to reach a two state solution to the decades-long conflict.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement that 99 of 120 lawmakers voted to support the declaration passed earlier this week by the cabinet.
The Israeli position also says that any permanent accord with the Palestinians would have to be reached through direct negotiations between the sides, and not by international dictates.


Gaza death toll rises to 29,313, Rafah residents killed in strike

Gaza death toll rises to 29,313, Rafah residents killed in strike
Updated 46 min 26 sec ago
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Gaza death toll rises to 29,313, Rafah residents killed in strike

Gaza death toll rises to 29,313, Rafah residents killed in strike
  • Ministry statement: A total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours

RAFAH, Gaza Strip/CAIRO: Israel stepped up its bombardment of the southern city of Rafah, residents said on Wednesday, as the death toll in the war across the devastated Palestinian strip rose to 29,313, according to the Gaza health ministry.

In its daily summary of events in Gaza, the Israeli army said it had intensified its operations in Khan Younis, a city just north of Rafah. It did not mention any attacks on Rafah itself, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About 1.5 million people are estimated to be crammed into Rafah, on the southernmost fringe of the enclave close to the boundary with Egypt, most of them having fled their homes further north to escape Israel’s military onslaught.

Israel has said it was preparing for a ground assault on Rafah, despite mounting opposition from foreign countries, including its staunch ally the United States, over concern for civilian lives.

Residents said Israeli tanks had advanced west from Khan Younis into Al-Mawasi, previously an area of relative safety where the army had told Palestinians to seek shelter.

The tanks reached the coastal road, effectively cutting off Khan Younis and Rafah from the rest of the strip, though they retreated after a few hours, according to local residents.

Rafah residents reached by text message reported several air strikes and large explosions in the city, as well as naval boats opening fire on beachfront areas.

Reuters video journalists filmed the aftermath of a strike on the home of the Al-Noor family in Rafah, which was reduced to rubble, showing more than a dozen bodies wrapped in white or black shrouds and bereaved relatives at a Rafah hospital.

Abdulrahman Juma said his wife Noor, who was from the Al-Noor family, as well as his one-year-old daughter Kinza, had both been killed in the strike, along with Noor’s parents, brother and other relatives.

Juma was holding Kinza’s body, wrapped in a bloodstained white shroud.

“This one, who is on my lap, took my soul away ... She is one-and-a-half years old,” he said.

ANGER AT UNITED STATES

At the site of the bombed house, neighbors and relatives vented their anger at the United States, which on Tuesday vetoed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

“Since October 7 and until this moment, the US has been supporting Israel with rockets, aircrafts and tanks. All of these massacres are because of America,” said Youssef Sheikh Al-Eid, whose brother had been living in the bombed house.

Residents of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza and Khan Younis also reported overnight strikes and deaths, and multiple funerals were taking place on Wednesday morning.

The Israel Defense Forces’ daily summary mentioned a targeted raid in the Zaytun area in northern Gaza, and operations in Khan Younis.

“Troops of the Givati Brigade conducted activities in eastern Khan Younis and killed approximately 20 terrorists in encounters over the past day,” it said.

“IDF Paratroopers expanded activities in western Khan Younis, targeting and killing terrorists with precise sniper fire and striking terror infrastructure. Additionally, two armed terrorists on bicycles approached IDF troops, who responded and killed them.”

Gaza’s health ministry said a total of 69,333 people had been injured in Gaza since the start of the war on Oct. 7, in addition to the 29,313 deaths, with 118 killed in the past 24 hours.

The war was triggered by Hamas militants who attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israel.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has responded with an air and ground assault on Gaza that has displaced most of the population of 2.3 million, caused widespread hunger and laid waste to much of the territory.