Another 11 hostages were freed and returned to Israel today — the fourth hostage release so far — as Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the current ceasefire by two days.
The extension to the four-day truce was engineered after the intervention of Qatar and Egypt, according to Hamas. Those two countries were also behind the initial ceasefire, and the 48-hour extension will keep the same terms as before. The agreement came with only around 12 hours left before hostilities were due to resume.
As for the latest hostage release, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have announced that all 11 of those individuals are now in Israel, after being held by Hamas in Gaza. All Israeli citizens, they have been named as: Eitan Yahalomi, Sharon Kunio, twins Emma and Yuly Kunio, Karina Enge, Mike Engel, Yuval Engel, Sahar Kalderon, Erez Kalderon, Or Yaakov, and Yagil Yaakov. Among them are children aged between three and 18.
“We saw the sort of violence [Hamas] committed against innocent civilians on 7 October, and just tonight, the people released, there are three-year-old twins. Who kidnaps three-year-olds?” Israeli diplomat Mark Regev told the BBC.
Regev added that the released hostages were transferred to the International Red Cross on Monday evening. He said that Israel had a “framework” in place for the release of 50 women and children over the first four days of the ceasefire.
At the same time, the White House says that it’s also working hard to ensure that more hostages are released.
The United States is “working very, very hard to keep this flow of hostages going,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.
“We’re glad to see that there’s a two-day extension,” Kirby added. “And we certainly would hope that in the next two days, in this next couple of installments, that we’ll see some Americans coming out.”
The exact number of Americans still being held by Hamas in Gaza is unclear. Officials have said that it could be as many as nine.
Kirby continued: “It could be as few as seven, it could be eight or nine left, we don’t have an exact figure. But we will.”
Kirby said that since the majority of the remaining U.S. hostages are understood to be men, they are currently not in line for release.
“Right now, Hamas is only willing to release women and children. So it could be some time here before we can start to see progress on the other hostages,” he said.
Kirby also issued a note of caution about the ability of Hamas to simply release more hostages in the future.
“I think it’s important to remember that Hamas likely doesn’t hold each and every one. Hamas probably has hostages in more than one location, and there’s other groups that may be holding some of these hostages as well and the conditions could be starkly different,” Kirby said.
Earlier today, the Israeli government assessed that there were 184 hostages still left in Gaza, after today’s release. Among those were 14 foreigners and 80 Israelis with dual nationality, an Israeli government spokesperson said.
In exchange, Israel continues to release Palestinian prisoners. Today’s release of 11 Israeli hostages will be matched by the release of 33 Palestinians from Israeli prisons, according to a spokesperson from the Qatari Foreign Ministry. Among that group are three women and 30 children, according to Hamas.
Sunday also saw a hostage release, involving the transfer of 17 individuals, including a four-year-old Israeli-American girl, three Thai nationals, and a Russian national. The remainder comprised Israeli women and children.
On the same day, 39 Palestinian prisoners were freed, according to Israeli prison authorities. Again, these included women and children.
While the ongoing truce has brought some respite to Gaza, Israel has reiterated that its campaign against Hamas will be stepped up once the ceasefire ends.
Speaking to troops today, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said that when the IDF begins fighting again its “strength will be greater, and it will take place throughout the entire Strip.”
Gallant added: “You now have a few days, we will return to fighting, we will use the same amount of power and more.”
The defense minister also warned that Hamas had been “organizing and resting” during the truce and that IDF troops “will meet something that is a little more prepared” once the ceasefire ends.
The situation has led to further calls for a permanent ceasefire from officials around the world.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat said today that “Palestinian people cannot pay for the action of Hamas,” and called for a lasting truce. “It makes no sense to give food to somebody that will be killed the day after. We need to stop the bombardment,” Borrell said.
President Joe Biden welcomed the fact that the ceasefire has enabled a “significant surge in additional humanitarian assistance to the innocent civilians who are suffering across the Gaza Strip.”
Around 200 container trucks full of humanitarian aid arrived in Gaza today. After the vehicles were inspected by Israel, they were permitted entry to Gaza from Egypt. While the main items transported were food, water, shelter equipment, and medical supplies, Israel permitted a small amount of fuel to be transferred to Gaza too.
“Four containers carrying diesel fuel and four containers carrying cooking gas were transferred from Egypt to U.N. humanitarian aid organizations in the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing,” Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement.
Kirby, the NSC spokesman, added that, including today, a total of 2,000 container trucks have entered Gaza over the past six days, some of them carrying fuel.
With two more days now added to the ceasefire, there’s “the chance for dozens more trucks, and tens of thousands of more gallons of fuel, that can get into Gaza to people in need,” Kirby said. “We’re going to take advantage of every hour of every day that there's a pause to try to help the people of Gaza.”
The truce may have temporarily reduced the destruction waged upon Gaza, but there are fears that a resumption of Israeli attacks will lead to an even worse situation, especially now that most of the Palestinian health system has collapsed.
Describing injuries consistent with white phosphorous burns as well as other civilian calamities at Gaza’s al-Ahli Arab and Dar al-Shifa hospitals, Prof. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a London-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon, claimed that the destruction of the Palestinian health system was a military objective of the IDF’s campaign.
Meanwhile, aid agencies fear that once fighting resumes, the situation could be especially bad in the south of the Strip, where there are now around two million people living in an area that includes the city of Khan Younis. Urged by Israel, many of these people escaped the north in the wake of the initial IDF attacks, which were mainly concentrated in these areas.
So far, according to Palestinian claims, more than 14,800 people have been killed in Gaza.
In a letter written to the president of the United Nations Security Council, Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of the state of Palestine to the U.N., says that this death toll, as of November 23, included 6,150 children and 4,000 women. The numbers cannot be independently verified.
Billionaire Elon Musk, who has come under fire for anti-semitism on the X social media platform he owns, visited Israel Monday.
"Dozens of major brands suspended their advertising on X after Mr. Musk this month agreed with a post that accused Jewish communities of pushing 'hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them,'" The New York Times reported. "The flight of advertisers threatened to cost X tens of millions of dollars, and the White House denounced Mr. Musk for 'abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate.'”
While in Israel, Musk met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also talked about his views on the war.
"There are three things that need to happen in Gaza situation," Musk said in an interview. "There's no choice but to kill those who insist on murdering civilians. There's no choice. They're not going to change their mind. And the second thing is to change the education, so that a new generation of murderers is not trained to be murderers. And the third thing, which is also very important, is to try to build prosperity."
Elsewhere in the world, violent repercussions from the Gaza conflict are still being felt.
In Vermont yesterday, a suspect was arrested after the shooting of three Palestinian students in the city of Burlington, the night before. The victims, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ali Ahmed, had been heading to one of their grandmother’s houses for Thanksgiving dinner when they were shot and wounded.
On Oct. 7, history was made during the Hamas invasion when the first all-woman tank crews engaged in a battle, fighting back in their Merkava tanks. You can learn more about in this video below.
Israeli troops held a raucous shabbat dinner inside the now-occupied Islamic University of Gaza.
Despite the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, there have also been some significant military actions taking place adjacent to the conflict elsewhere in the Middle East.
Most notably, the two ballistic missiles were fired from Yemen in the direction of the destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87), underway in the Red Sea. At the time, the warship was concluding its response to a distress call from the M/V Central Park, a commercial vessel that had itself come under attack from a group of armed raiders that had attempted to board it.
There are now several different theories as to the identity of those raiders, with initial accounts that they were Houthi rebels, followed by more recent announcements from the Pentagon that the perpetrators were likely Somali pirates. You can read our full analysis of the incident here.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news to report about the Israel-Hamas war.
Staff writer Howard Altman contributed to this report.
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