Gaza truce extended by 48 hours

Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

GAZA STRIP: A truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be extended by two days, the Palestinian group and mediator Qatar said Monday, as Israeli military announced that 11 hostages held in Gaza were on their way to Israel. The release was made by Hamas in exchange for the freedom of 33 Palestinians being in Israeli prisons.

With just hours to go before the so-called “humanitarian pause” was to end early Tuesday, Hamas said that an agreement had been reached to prolong it by 48 hours under the existing terms. This was nevertheless hailed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a glimpse of hope and humanity in the middle of the darkness of war”. Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari announced that “an agreement has been reached to extend the humanitarian truce for an additional two days in the Gaza Strip.” Hamas said it was drawing up a new list of hostages for release.

Meanwhile, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it had informed families of the identities of hostages to be released on Monday, the last day of the initial four-day truce.

The Qatari announcement came after US President Joe Biden, top EU envoy Josep Borrell and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg all joined a global chorus urging the parties to extend their temporary break in fighting.

Qatar announced that among the 11 Israeli hostages freed in the fourth group included French, German and Argentinian dual nationals. On “the fourth day of the humanitarian truce agreement, 33 Palestinian civilians will be released today in exchange for the release of 11 Israeli detainees from Gaza,” Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said on X, formerly Twitter “Those released from Israeli prisons include 30 minors and 3 women, while the Hamas released from Gaza include 3 French citizens, 2 German citizens, and 6 Argentinian citizens,” he added.

Earlier, Hamas has so far released 39 Israeli hostages, including a four-year-old girl orphaned by the group’s October 7 attack. Israel has freed 117 Palestinian prisoners under the terms of the agreement. In parallel, 19 foreign nationals have also been released by Palestinian militants.

Tearful reunions of families and hostages have brought relief from images of civilian death and suffering in the seven-week war.

The White House welcomed the agreement to extend the truce. “We would of course hope to see the pause extended further, and that will depend upon Hamas continuing to release hostages,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Kirby said that “in order to extend the pause, Hamas has committed to releasing another 20 women and children.”

The EU’s Borrell had called for the pause to be prolonged “to make it sustainable and long lasting while working for a political solution.” “Nothing can justify the indiscriminate brutality Hamas unleashed against civilians,” he said. “But one horror cannot justify another horror.”

Inside Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry complained that, despite the four-day pause, no fuel had been taken to generators in hospitals in the north of the Gaza Strip.

And Yahya al-Siraj, the mayor of Gaza City, complained that without fuel the territory could not pump clean water nor clear waste accumulating in the streets, warning of a potential public health “catastrophe”.

A French warship arrived in the Egyptian town of El-Arish near the border with Gaza to serve as a hospital for wounded civilians, a port source said.

Israel has faced mounting pressure to extend the pause mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, though its leaders have dismissed any suggestions of a lasting halt to the offensive.

“We continue until the end -- until victory,” Netanyahu said in Gaza on Sunday, on the first visit by an Israeli premier since 2005. His office has proposed a war budget of 30 billion shekels ($8 billion) for 90 days.

In another sign of mounting international concern, UN rights experts called Monday for independent investigations into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out in Israel and the Palestinian territories since October 7.

Morris Tidball-Binz, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteur on torture, issued a joint statement stressing the need for “prompt, transparent and independent investigations”.