Hamas says it wants to extend truce after latest exchange of captives with Israel
Updated November 26, 2023 at 3:54 PM ET
TEL AVIV, Israel — Hamas says it wants to extend a temporary cease-fire with Israel in Gaza in hopes of securing the release of more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for hostages it seized in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a video posted after the Hamas statement came out, said he was open to an extension of the cease-fire if Hamas freed 10 hostages per day. Previously, Israel has said it could extend the deal for up to 10 days.
In a statement posted to the social media platform Telegram, the Islamist militant group said it was "seeking to extend the truce after the end of the four-day period" which started on Friday and is to end on Monday.
The Hamas announcement came hours after it freed a 4-year-old girl whose parents were killed in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, along with 12 other Israelis, three Thais and a dual Israeli Russian citizen.
In return, Israel released 39 Palestinians, including one Gaza resident who was handed over on the Egyptian border, while the others were delivered near Ofer Prison and the Jerusalem detention center in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
A spokesman for Qatar's foreign ministry said on X (formerly known as Twitter) that among the hostages freed were a South African woman and two individuals from Hungary.
The young girl, Abigail Mor Edan, turned 4 in captivity on Friday. She is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. The unidentified Israeli Russian was freed first in response to "efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin and in appreciation of the Russian position in support of the Palestinian cause," Hamas said in a statement earlier. The others were freed afterward.
President Biden confirmed Abigail had been freed but did not provide information about her well-being. Speaking to reporters from Nantucket, Mass., where he was spending the Thanksgiving holiday, Biden said: "What she endured is unthinkable."
Biden noted that Abigail's mother was killed in front of her in last month's attack and that when she ran to her father, he was gunned down while shielding her.
"Thank God she's home," Biden said. "I just can't imagine the enjoyment, and I just – I wish I were there to hold her."
Abigail's great aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali and cousin Noa Naftali thanked Biden and the Qatari government for helping secure the girl's freedom.
"We hoped and prayed today would come. There are no words to express our relief and gratitude that Abigail is safe and coming home," they said in a statement.
In two previous exchanges, Hamas released 26 Israelis and 14 Thai laborers as well as one Filipino. In return, Israel has freed 78 Palestinian prisoners, all women and minors.
Tens of thousands of Thai and Filipino laborers work in Israel. Dozens were among the 1,200 people that Israel says were killed in the Oct. 7 attack and others were swept up as Hamas took some 240 hostages. The Gaza Health Ministry says 13,300 Palestinians have died in seven weeks of Israeli bombardment of the territory.
With the release of Abigail, two women with U.S.-Israeli citizenship are still being held. Biden on Sunday said he remains hopeful about the Americans who are still unaccounted for, but did not have a concrete update on their release.
He said the administration is working with Qatar and the other negotiators to extend this pause to facilitate the freedom of additional hostages.
The latest exchange of captives comes on the same day that Netanyahu visited Israeli soldiers in Gaza, his first known trip to the Palestinian enclave in more than a decade.
Netanyahu's office released a video of his visit showing the prime minister wearing a helmet and body armor and appearing to stand among empty Palestinian homes, where troops were stationed. His office said he visited one of the underground Hamas tunnels revealed during Israeli military operations. In a video, Netanyahu said "we are going all the way" on Israel's goal of eradicating Hamas.
Meanwhile, there are signs of rising violence in the West Bank, where Israeli forces killed five people in an operation overnight at a refugee camp there. Three others were killed elsewhere in the territory, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
On Saturday, the second exchange of captives came close to unraveling over what Hamas said were Israeli violations of terms of the truce that has briefly halted the fighting in Gaza. Israel denied such violations.
Among the captives freed on Saturday was 9-year-old Emily Hand. Her father, Thomas Hand, had been informed she was killed in the attack only to be told later that her body was not found among the victims.
"We can't find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days," Thomas Hand said in a statement to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
In Gaza, which has been pounded for nearly seven weeks by a relentless Israeli bombardment before the temporary truce went into effect, humanitarian groups were rushing aid to civilians while the situation on the ground was still relatively quiet.
Israeli military officials issued a warning on Sunday to civilian Palestinians inside Gaza, ordering them to remain in the south and not to travel within a half-mile of the border with Israel.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported at least eight Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli soldiers over the last 24 hours in the West Bank, according to The Associated Press.
"It's good that we have a truce in Gaza, but there is no truce in the West Bank," said Basil Abu Nasr, a shopkeeper in the Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah. "They still raid our villages, they still raid our refugee camps ... make arrests and attack people."
Aman Naf'a, whose husband has been jailed by the Israelis, told NPR that violence by the Israeli military and settlers angers many of her Palestinian neighbors.
"We want the whole world to see what they are doing to us," Naf'a told NPR.
The Israeli military said its soldiers killed five Palestinians in a gun battle in the Jenin refugee camp and arresteda Palestinian suspected of killing an Israeli father and son earlier this year.
In an appearance on the social media site X on Saturday, Israel Defense Forces Maj. Doron Spielman said the IDF was trying to limit threats to Israeli civilians after Hamas' deadly attack.
"We are focused on Gaza but this has been a multi-front war over the last five weeks," Spielman said. He also pointed to threats from Hezbollah, an anti-Israel militia backed by Iran operating in southern Lebanon.
Israeli officials have said they plan to resume their full-scale offensive against Hamas in Gaza once the temporary truce ends.
In a statement early Sunday, United Nations officials said they hoped the cease-fire would be extended. "The longer the pause lasts, the more aid humanitarian agencies will be able to send in and across Gaza," the U.N. statement said.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 200 trucks loaded with aid were dispatched on Saturday and that 187 had entered Gaza by 7 p.m. local time (noon EDT). The bulk of the aid went to areas in the south, it said.
OCHA says that 1.7 million people in Gaza, or nearly 80% of its 2.2 million people, are internally displaced and that nearly 900,000 of them were sheltering in some 100 facilities in the south.
NPR's Brian Mann reported from Ramallah in the West Bank. NPR's Scott Neuman and Daniel Estrin reported from Tel Aviv. NPR's Dana Farrington contributed from Washington, D.C.
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