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Israel-Palestine war: Hamas releases 12 more prisoners amid push to extend Gaza truce

Hamas and Israel exchanged another batch of prisoners on day five of the truce, as spy chiefs and mediators met in Doha as part of efforts to extend agreement
Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters accompany newly released hostages before handing them over to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 28 November 2023 (AFP)
By Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem and Elis Gjevori in Istanbul

Hamas and Israel exchanged another batch of prisoners on Tuesday, as a five day truce continued to hold in war-ravaged Gaza while mediators intensified efforts to reach a more lasting settlement to the conflict.

Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for Qatar's foreign ministry, said on the messaging platform X, that the prisoners released by Hamas included one Israeli child and nine Israeli women along with two non-Israelis.

"In implementation of the commitment to the 5th day of the humanitarian pause, 30 Palestinian civilians will be released today," Ansari said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office did not comment on the release of the 30 Palestinians but said the freed Israelis included one teenage girl and nine elderly women.

Images from Rafah near the Egyptian-Gaza border crossing captured the moment the Israeli captives were handed over to the Red Cross.

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One photograph showed a Hamas fighter pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Another showed Hamas fighters walking beside a young girl holding a dog. The girl was identified as 17-year-old Israeli, Mia Leimberg, by Israeli media.

Netanyahu has come under extreme pressure from the families of Israeli captives and ordinary Israelis to continue the truce in order to free more prisoners.

According to Israeli officials, 240 Israelis were captured by Hamas and Palestinian groups on 7 October during their multi-pronged attack on southern Israel. 

Most of the Israelis were taken prisoner by Hamas but some are believed to be held by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a smaller faction.

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Later on Tuesday, Israel said it had released 30 Palestinian women and children from its prisons. Images broadcast by Al Jazeera showed a bus leaving Israel's Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank.

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The Qatar-based TV channel aired the moment a 14-year-old Palestinian child, Ahmed Saleimi, arrived at his home in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities had warned the families of Palestinian women and children being released as part of the Gaza truce against celebrating their return home.

"We heard women that were beaten. We were also beaten," said a gaunt and tired Saleimi following his release.

"We only received two meals per day, we would often be hungry."

His father said he was the youngest Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody and was placed under house arrest when he was 13, and was moved to prison when he turned 14. 

Spy chiefs meet mediators in Doha

Tuesday's exchange came a day after the warring sides agreed to extend what was originally a four-day pause by 48 hours.

In an attempt to prolong the temporary truce to secure further hostage releases, CIA director Bill Burns travelled to Doha on Tuesday where he met with the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, David Barnea, Qatar's Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, and Egyptian officials.

Burns is pushing for what multiple US media reports say is a substantially longer truce and broader prison exchange that could see Israeli men and soldiers released by Hamas.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Tuesday that Doha was working to turn the truce into "a permanent ceasefire."

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So far, Israel and Hamas have limited their exchanges to women and children. A shift could entail Israel releasing Palestinian fighters and officials.

While Israel has vowed to continue the war in Gaza after the pause elapses, it has released statements suggesting that a longer truce could be in the works.

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu released a video clip saying: "So far we’ve released 74 hostages - of whom 50 children and women were in the original framework.

"We are committed to completing this framework - to release all of our hostages, women and children. And after that, all of them, without exception."

If the truce is extended again it will offer further relief for the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who have endured several weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment, as well as families in Israel fearful for the fate of their loved ones taken captive on 7 October.

On Monday, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he wanted to see the truce between Israel and Hamas turn into a full humanitarian ceasefire. 

"The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is getting worse by the day," Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

"The dialogue that led to the agreement must continue, resulting in a full humanitarian ceasefire, for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and the wider region." 

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