More Israeli hostages and jailed Palestinians freed as mediators work to extend truce in Gaza

Eight more hostages held by Hamas in Gaza were released on Thursday, while Israel freed 30 jailed Palestinians, in the seventh ceasefire swap since the pause in fighting began late last week, Israel’s military and prison officials said.

Six of the former hostages — four adults and two teenagers — were transferred to the Red Cross and taken to Israel on Thursday night, following the release of two other hostages, both Israeli women, earlier in the day.

Israel named the women released first as 21-year-old Mia Schem, who was seized at a dance party along with many of the other hostages abducted into Gaza, and 40-year-old Amit Sosana.

Last month, Hamas released an undated video that featured Schem, who also holds French citizenship, with a bandaged right arm.

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

Three people reunite.
Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French Israeli citizen, embraces her mother and brother after they were reunited at Hatzerim military base in Israel on Thursday. (Family photo/Israeli government press office/Reuters)

The ceasefire is set to expire early Friday, but international mediators are working to extend it by at least another day. Israel has vowed to resume its offensive against Hamas in Gaza once the truce ends.

The truce has let some humanitarian aid into Gaza after much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million people was reduced to wasteland by seven weeks of Israeli bombardment in retaliation for a deadly rampage by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

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Israel, which has demanded Hamas release at least 10 hostages per day to keep the ceasefire going, said it received a list at the last minute of those who would go free on Thursday, allowing it to call off plans to resume fighting at dawn.

WATCH | Uncle says twin nieces ‘forced to whisper’ while held hostage by Hamas: 

Uncle says twin nieces ‘forced to whisper’ while held hostage by Hamas

Featured VideoMoran Aloni’s three nieces and two sisters were held captive by Hamas until its recent truce with Israel. He’s since revealed some of their stories of the experience, including how his six-year-old and twin three-year-old nieces were at times ordered to whisper for ‘hours and days.’

“In light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the framework, the operational pause will continue,” the Israeli military said in a statement, released minutes before the truce was due to expire.

Hamas, which freed 16 hostages on Wednesday while Israel released 30 people held in Palestinian prisons, also said the truce would continue for a seventh day.

Blinken says Israel should minimize harm

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his third visit to the Middle East since the war began, said efforts were continuing to prolong the truce.

“We have seen over the last week the very positive development of hostages coming home, being reunited with their families. And that should continue today,” he said during a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

“It’s also enabled an increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately. So this process is producing results. It’s important, and we hope that it can continue.”

Blinken said he made clear to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that before Israel starts its operations in southern Gaza it has to put in place protections for civilians, noting that the Israeli government agreed with the need for that.

“Israel has … one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent men, women and children. And it has an obligation to do so,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Heading into Thursday, 97 people among some 240 hostages had been released: 70 Israeli women and children, each freed in return for three Palestinian women and teenage detainees, plus 27 foreign hostages freed under parallel agreements with their governments.

With fewer Israeli women and children left in captivity, extending the truce could require setting new terms for the release of Israeli men, including soldiers.

WATCH | ‘Not even an ounce of hope’: Refugees fear war resumption:

Palestinian family in Khan Younis displacement camp says, ‘we suffer for everything’

Featured VideoIsmail Al-Ustad, his wife, Asmaa, and their three children have been living in a UN-run displacement camp in Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip, for 35 days. Ismail and Asmaa both say they hope they can return to their former lives in Gaza City, but are concerned about the immediate future.

Hamas claims deadly attack in Jerusalem

Shortly after the agreement was extended, Israeli police said two Palestinian attackers opened fire at a bus stop during morning rush hour at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing three people. Both attackers were “neutralized,” police said.

Hamas claimed as its members the two gunmen, saying in a statement that “the operation came as a natural response to unprecedented crimes conducted by the occupation,” citing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

A woman is shown seated while holding a picture of a younger woman.
Mia’s mother, Keren Schem, holds up a picture of her daughter during a news conference on Oct. 17 in Tel Aviv. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Security camera footage obtained by Reuters shows a white car stopping beside the crowded bus stop. Two men then step out, guns drawn, and charge at the crowd as people scatter. Shortly afterwards, the Palestinian attackers are themselves shot.

The slain victims were identified by Israeli media as a woman in her 20s, a woman in her 60s and a 74-year-old rabbi.

As well, the Israeli military said it intercepted an “aerial target” that crossed from Lebanon on Thursday.

Reuters witnesses heard blasts along the southeastern Lebanese frontier. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for any attacks from Lebanon.

Negotiators reportedly seek 2-day truce extension

Egypt’s state media body said Egyptian and Qatari mediators were working to negotiate a further extension of the truce for two days.

The conditions of the ceasefire, including the halt of hostilities and the entry of humanitarian aid, remain the same, according to a Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Qatar has been a key mediator between the warring sides, along with Egypt and the United States.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, in response to the Oct. 7 rampage by the militant group, when Israel says gunmen killed 1,200 people, including several Canadians.

Until the truce, Israel bombarded the territory for seven weeks. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 Gazans have been confirmed killed, around 40 per cent of them children. A further 6,500 are missing, many feared still buried under rubble.

Two-thirds of Gazans are homeless, most sheltering in the south after Israel ordered the complete evacuation of the northern half of the tiny coastal strip. Once the truce is over, Israel is expected to extend its ground campaign into the south.

‘What is a truce that doesn’t bring us back home?’

Gazans have been able to use the week-long truce to venture out, visit abandoned and destroyed homes, and dig scores more bodies out of the wreckage. But residents and international agencies say the aid that has arrived so far is still trivial compared to the besieged enclave’s vast humanitarian needs.

Those who fled the north of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, have still been blocked from returning. Many thousands of families are sleeping rough in makeshift shelters with only the belongings they could carry.

“What is a truce that doesn’t bring us back home? Israeli soldiers on tanks fired at us when we tried to go back to check on our homes in Gaza City after we heard it was bombed,” said Mohammad Joudat, 25, a displaced business administration graduate, speaking in Deir al-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip.

The United States, which has strongly backed its ally so far, is urging Israel to narrow the zone of combat and clarify where Palestinian civilians can seek safety during any Israeli operation in southern Gaza, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, to prevent a repeat of the massive death toll so far.

Meanwhile, Jordan is set to host a conference attended by the main UN, regional and international relief agencies on Thursday to co-ordinate aid to Gaza, official media said.

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