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Israel releases more Palestinian prisoners as part of extended exchanges for hostages

Israeli protesters call for the release of the Bibas family, whose members are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday.
Ariel Schalit
/
AP
Israeli protesters call for the release of the Bibas family, whose members are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday.

Updated November 28, 2023 at 6:02 PM ET

TEL AVIV — Israel released 30 more Palestinian prisoners Tuesday as part of the exchange for hostages held by Hamas, hours after 10 Israelis and two foreign nationals were released by the Palestinian militant group.

The Israel prison service announced the release of the Palestinians. The foreign ministry of Qatar, which has mediated the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, tweeted that the prisoners released included 15 women and 15 minors. It appears many of them were held for days or weeks and had not been charged with crimes.

Tuesday was the fifth day of a temporary cease-fire to facilitate the release of some of the around 240 hostages Hamas abducted on Oct. 7. The hostages released today included nine women, a teenage girl and two Thai citizens.

The Associated Press reported that 81 hostages have been released, most of them Israelis, and 180 Palestinian prisoners have been released during the pause.

Wednesday is the last scheduled day of the cease-fire, which started Friday. But it could be extended again as it has been once already.

Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns arrived in Doha for meetings with Qatar Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani and David Barnea, chief of Mossad, Israel's spy agency, a U.S. official told NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

The meeting in Qatar, which has beena key broker as the temporary cease-fire deal has unfolded, is focused on securing the release of more hostages, and partly about expanding the pause in fighting. The official would not specifically say the discussions are about U.S. hostages, but noted that there are still nine Americans unaccounted for who could be held by Hamas.

In the final hours of the original four-day truce that was set to expire on Monday, Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. said there had been agreement to prolong the deal at least through Wednesday if each day Hamas releases at least 10 Israeli hostages it seized in last month's attack on Israel. Around 240 captives were taken in the Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

On Monday, there were more scenes of jubilation — both among Palestinian families whose sons and daughters walked out of Israeli jails and Israelis who welcomed home 11 women, children and teenagers after 52 days in captivity. In all, 33 Palestinians prisoners were released after Hamas handed over 11 Israeli hostages.

Among the Palestinians freed on Monday was 16-year-old Nufuth Hammad from Jenin, a city in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hammad was sentenced just two weeks ago to 12 years in prison for stabbing a neighbor. She had already spent two years in jail awaiting her sentencing.

Released Palestinian prisoner Muhammad Abu Al-Humus, 17, hugs his mother after arriving home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, early Tuesday. Eleven Israelis were also released in the latest Israel-Hamas swap of captives.
Mahmoud Illean / AP
/
AP
Released Palestinian prisoner Muhammad Abu Al-Humus, 17, hugs his mother after arriving home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, early Tuesday.

Many of the Israelis freed come from a single kibbutz, Nir Oz, that was among those hardest hit in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. They included two women, two toddlers and four other children and teens, the oldest 18.

Until now, each day's hostages-for-prisoners swap has adhered to a formula of three Palestinians for every Israeli hostage, an arrangement expected to continue in the coming days. So far, 81 hostages have been released — including 19 Thais, a Filipino and a dual Russian-Israeli citizen who were freed outside the framework of the agreement.

U.N. says 75% of Gaza's population displaced by fighting

As significant as the extension of the pause in fighting is for more exchanges of captives, it also allows desperately needed relief aid to reach Gaza, which has been pounded by seven weeks of Israeli airstrikes and a ground offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas. At least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting began, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Monday that "dozens" of aid trucks from UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency that oversees the Palestinian territories, and the Palestine Red Crescent Society had reached areas in northern Gaza, where much of the fighting has been focused.

"The assistance included medical supplies, ready-to-eat food, wheat flour, bottled water, tents and blankets, which were delivered to four UNRWA shelters and three main warehouses for subsequent distribution," OCHA said.

The U.N. says three-quarters of Gaza's 2.2 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict.

OCHA said that the pause in fighting that went into effect early Friday "was largely maintained" through until Monday.

"It has enabled humanitarian actors, primarily the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies and UN agencies, to enhance the delivery of assistance into and across Gaza," OCHA said in its latest update on the situation.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. airlifted 54,000 pounds of medical items and food aid to the logistics hub in Egypt to deliver to civilians in Gaza. He said Tuesday's delivery was the first of three planned in the coming days.

Possible violations of the cease-fire

However, there were signs on Tuesday that the truce could be fraying. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement that three explosive devices "were detonated adjacent to IDF troops in two different locations in the northern Gaza Strip, violating the framework of the operational pause."

"In one of the locations, terrorists also opened fire at the troops, who responded with fire," the military said. "A number of soldiers were lightly injured during the incidents."

In an apparent reference to the incident, Israel's minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, posted on X (formerly Twitter) a call for Netanyahu "to order the IDF to return and crush Hamas with force."

"We must not wait until our fighters are killed," Ben-Gvir wrote. "We must once again act in accordance with the goal of the war: the total destruction of Hamas."

Israel's military also said that three of the dozens of soldiers kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7 are dead and that Hamas has their bodies, but didn't give further details.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.