Hamas releases eight hostages to Israel as talks seek to extend Gaza ceasefire

  • Recent Developments:
  • Eight hostages were handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza City
  • Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released
  • Hamas’ armed wing says the Jerusalem attack was in retaliation for the Gaza deaths
  • Blinken asked the Israelis to protect civilians – US officials

GAZA/TEL AVIV, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Hamas released eight Israeli hostages in Gaza on Thursday.

Two female hostages were released first. Israel has identified 21-year-old Mia Schem and 40-year-old Amit Susana, who were captured at a dance party with several hostages kidnapped in Gaza. Schemme also holds French citizenship.

Palestinian militant group Hamas has freed a group of six more hostages and handed them over to the Red Cross, the Israeli military said. Television images showed some of the young women in the group walking towards ambulances as they reached the Israeli border.

The six freed hostages included four adults and two youths, both Bedouin Arab citizens of Israel, according to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

Although Hamas requires Israel to release 10 hostages a day to maintain the ceasefire, a Qatari foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday that only eight would be released and Israel would free 30 Palestinians.

Israeli officials signaled they would accept eight of the 10 hostages on Thursday’s release list. They said Hamas released 12 hostages believed to be Israelis on Wednesday, including two Israeli-Russian women, in what Palestinian factions described as a goodwill gesture to Moscow.

Those two women could be counted as part of Thursday’s package, Israeli officials suggested. “The Framework Agreement says ‘about 10 (hostages) per day,'” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Israel’s Army Radio, adding that Israelis with dual citizenship are considered to meet the conditions.

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Hamas released four Thai hostages on Wednesday.

Footage broadcast on Al Jazeera showed the first two women freed Thursday from a white vehicle surrounded by armed Hamas fighters in Gaza City and met by Red Cross officials amid crowds of onlookers.

Later, photos released by the Israeli prime minister’s office showed Schem hugging his mother and brother after being reunited at the Hatcherim military base in Israel.

Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their cease-fire for a seventh day, while mediators pressed negotiations to extend the ceasefire further to allow more hostages to be released and aid to reach Gaza.

Blinken Druze claims ‘production results’

The cease-fire halted bombing and allowed humanitarian aid into Gaza after an Israeli campaign in response to deadly rampages by Hamas militants on October 7 left much of the coastal region of 2.3 million people barren.

Hamas’ armed wing claimed responsibility for a deadly shooting in Jerusalem, which Israel cited as further evidence of the need to eradicate the militants, although there were no signs it would end the Gaza conflict or free the hostages.

Mia Schem appeared in a hostage video released by Hamas in October, in which her wound was treated by an unidentified medical worker.

Her father, David, told Israel’s Channel 12 television on Thursday that he would not say a word to her when they met. “I don’t want to ask her questions because I don’t know what she’s endured.”

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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in Israel, on his third visit to the Middle East since the war began, that the ceasefire was “producing results”. US officials also said Blinken told the Israelis to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians when fighting resumes.

Egyptian and Qatari mediators are in talks to extend the ceasefire by two more days, Egypt’s state media said.

Before Thursday, the militants had released 97 hostages during the ceasefire: 70 Israeli women, youths and children, each in exchange for three Palestinian women and teenage prisoners, and 27 foreign hostages freed under parallel agreements with their governments.

Israel released 210 Palestinian prisoners before Thursday.

With fewer Israeli women and children in captivity, extending the ceasefire would require new terms to be set for the release of Israeli men, including soldiers.

Three people were killed in the Jerusalem attack

After a last-minute ceasefire deal, two Palestinian attackers opened fire at a bus stop at the entrance to Jerusalem during the morning rush hour, killing at least three people. Both attackers were “neutralized,” police said.

“This event proves once again how we must not show weakness and talk to Hamas only through (gun) objectives,” hard-right National Defense Minister Itamar Ben-Ghir said at the scene of the attack.

Hamas claimed the attackers were its members, and its armed wing claimed responsibility for the attack in retaliation for “crimes of aggression that killed children and women in Gaza”.

But neither side considered the attack an open abandonment of the ceasefire. A Palestinian official familiar with the ceasefire talks said its terms did not apply to what he characterized as responses to Israeli attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

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Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which rules Gaza, while Israel says the gunmen have killed 1,200 people and taken 240 hostages.

Until the cease-fire, Israel bombarded the territory for seven weeks. Palestinian health officials say, deemed credible by the United Nations, that more than 15,000 Gazans have been killed, 40% of them children. Another 6,500 people are missing, with many feared still buried under the rubble.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Mohamed Salem and Rolene Tafaqji in Gaza, Humera Bamuk in Tel Aviv, Ari Rabinovitch and Emily Rose in Jerusalem and Reuters; By Peter Graf, Alexandra Hudson, and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Gareth Jones, William McLean and Grant McCool

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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A veteran reporter with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.

Humeyra Pamuk is a senior foreign policy correspondent in Washington, DC. He covers the US State Department and travels regularly with the US Secretary of State. During his 20 years with Reuters, he held posts in London, Dubai, Cairo and Turkey, covering everything from the Arab Spring and Syria’s civil war to multiple Turkish elections and the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast. In 2017, he won the Knight-Pagehatt Fellowship Program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. He holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in European Union Studies.

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