World

Hamas says it has freed Gaza hostage with Russian citizenship

  • Russian released "in appreciation of Moscow's stance" on Hamas-Israel war
Published November 26, 2023 Updated November 27, 2023
An image grab from a handout video released by the Hamas Media Office shows a Hamas fighter and a Red Cross medic accompanying a newly released Israeli hostage Maya Regev to a Red Cross vehicle, in the Gaza Strip early on November 26, 2023. - AFP
An image grab from a handout video released by the Hamas Media Office shows a Hamas fighter and a Red Cross medic accompanying a newly released Israeli hostage Maya Regev to a Red Cross vehicle, in the Gaza Strip early on November 26, 2023. - AFP

Hamas said on Sunday it had freed a hostage who has Russian citizenship from Gaza, while Egypt received lists of 13 Israelis and 39 Palestinians scheduled for release during the day as part of a truce between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas said it freed the person in appreciation of Moscow's stance on its war with Israel, which broke out after Hamas fighters rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages back into Gaza.

In response to that attack, Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas that run Gaza, bombarding the enclave and mounting a ground offensive in the north. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The killing of a Palestinian farmer in the central Gaza Strip had earlier added to concerns over the fragility of the four-day truce between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas frees Israeli, Thai hostages in temporary truce 481 481

The farmer was killed when targeted by Israeli forces east of Gaza's long-established Maghazi refugee camp, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

There was no comment from Israel on the report but there were fears it could jeopardise the third phase of plans to swap 50 hostages held by Hamas for 150 prisoners in Israeli jails over the four-day period.

However, Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt's State Information Service (SIS), said the truce was "proceeding without roadblocks". Rashwan said 120 aid tucks crossed from Egypt to Gaza on Sunday including two fuel trucks and two with gas for cooking.

Adding to the more positive mood, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said there was "reason to believe" a US hostage would be released from captivity in Gaza on Sunday. Sullivan declined to give the hostage's identity.

Thirteen Israelis and four Thai nationals arrived in Israel early on Sunday after a second release of hostages held by Hamas following an initial delay caused by a dispute about aid delivery into Gaza.

Egypt and Qatar acted as mediators on Saturday to maintain the truce.

Truce extension?

Hamas also said on Sunday that four of its military commanders in the Gaza Strip had been killed, including the commander of the North Gaza brigade, Ahmad Al Ghandour. It did not say when they had been killed.

Qatar, Egypt and the United States are pressing for the truce to be extended beyond Monday but it is not clear whether that will happen.

Israel had said the ceasefire could be extended if Hamas continued to release at least 10 hostages a day. A Palestinian source had said up to 100 hostages could go free.

Six of the 13 Israelis released on Saturday were women and seven were teenagers or children. The youngest was three-year-old Yahel Shoham, freed with her mother and brother, although her father remains a hostage.

Israel freed 39 Palestinians - six women and 33 teenagers - from two prisons, the Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

UN says 61 trucks deliver aid in northern Gaza

Some of the Palestinians arrived at Al-Bireh Municipality Square in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where thousands of citizens awaited them, a Reuters journalist said.

Violence flared in the West Bank where Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians, including two minors and at least one gunman, late on Saturday and early Sunday, medics and local sources said.

Even before the October 7 attacks from Gaza, the West Bank had been in a state of unrest, with a rise in Israeli army raids, Palestinian attacks, and violence by Israeli settlers in the past 18 months. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since October 7, some in Israeli air strikes.

Saturday's swap follows the previous day's initial release of 13 Israeli hostages, including children and the elderly, by Hamas in return for the release of 39 Palestinian women and teenagers from Israeli prisons.

The four Thais freed on Saturday "want a shower and to contact their relatives", Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on social media platform X. All were safe and showed few ill-effects, he said.

"I’m so happy, I’m so glad, I can’t describe my feeling at all," Thongkoon Onkaew told Reuters by telephone after news of the release of her son Natthaporn, 26, the family's sole breadwinner.

Days of Calm

The deal risked being derailed when Hamas said on Saturday it was delaying releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to let aid trucks into northern Gaza.

Saving the deal took a day of diplomacy mediated by Qatar and Egypt, which US President Joe Biden also joined.

Al-Qassam Brigades also said Israel had failed to respect terms for the release of Palestinian prisoners that factored in their time in detention.

COGAT, the Israeli agency for civilian coordination with the Palestinians, accused Hamas itself of delaying trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to northern Gaza at a checkpoint.

"To Hamas, residents of Gaza are their last priority," it said on Sunday.

Saturday also brought hours of waiting for the families of hostages, some of whose joy was tempered by the continued captivity of others.

"My heart is split because my son, Itay, is still in Hamas' captivity in Gaza," Mirit Regev, the mother of Maya Regev, who was released late on Saturday, said in a statement from the Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

The truce allowed some respite for Gazans such as Ibrahim Kaninch, who sat by a small bonfire outside his partially destroyed house, feeding the flames with bits of cardboard as he heated up water for tea.

"We’re living days of calm, where we are stealing moments to make tea," he said, his face lit by the glow of the fire in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

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