Palestinian prisoners released by Israel arrive in West Bank city
JERUSALEM — The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the militants freed 17 more hostages, including 14 Israelis and the first American, in a third set of releases under a four-day truce that the US said it hoped would be extended.
Some hostages were handed over directly to Israel, while others left through Egypt. Israel’s army said one was airlifted to a hospital. US President Joe Biden said the elderly woman was “very sick and was in need of immediate medical help.” Hundreds of Israelis draped in flags cheered as freed hostages, waving, arrived at an air force base.
They ranged in age from four to 84 and included Abigail Edan, a four-year-old girl and dual citizen whose parents were killed in the Hamas attack that started the war on October 7. “What she endured was unthinkable,” Biden said of the first American freed under the truce. He did not know her condition. He did not have updates on other American hostages and said his goal was to extend the cease-fire deal as long as possible.
In all, nine children ages 17 and younger were on the list, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. Three more Thai nationals were released. Separately, Hamas said it released a Russian hostage “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin”. The Russian-Israeli citizen was the first male hostage to be freed.
Israel’s prison service later said it had begun the process of releasing 39 Palestinian prisoners. A convoy of vehicles was seen leaving Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank.
A fourth exchange is expected on Monday — the last day of the cease-fire during which a total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are to be freed. All are women and minors.
“We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” said two of Edan’s relatives, a great aunt and cousin, in a statement thanking mediators.
International mediators led by the US, Egypt and Qatar are trying to extend the cease-fire that began Friday.
Hamas on Sunday for the first time said it would seek to extend the deal by looking to release a larger number of hostages. The Israeli army’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said it was open to extending the cease-fire if more hostages are released. Israel earlier said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed, but has vowed to quickly resume its offensive once it ends.
Ahead of the latest release, Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, where he spoke with troops. “At the end of the day we will return every one,” he said of the hostages, adding that “we are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.” It was not clear where he went inside Gaza.
The cease-fire agreement has brought the first significant pause in seven weeks of war, marked by the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades and vast destruction and displacement across the Gaza Strip.
More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. The war has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack.
Hamas and other militant groups seized around 240 people during the incursion into southern Israel that ignited the war. Fifty-eight have been released, one was freed by Israeli forces and two were found dead inside Gaza.
Families from the southern Israeli town of Kfar Aza embraced, cried, and applauded at the news that hostages from their town had arrived in Israel. More than 70 members of the kibbutz of around 700 people were killed and 18 were kidnapped.