On November 26, 2023, Hamas released a third group of hostages, including a four-year-old American girl, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners on the day of the truce, which a source close to Hamas said they were willing to prolong. The transfers of a four-day truce that started on November 24, 2023, have been the first sign of relief for captives since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, prompting devastating bombardments of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials have said 17 hostages were back on Israeli territory after the latest release. One in her 80s was admitted to a hospital which said that her life was in danger. US President Joe Boden had announced that among those who have been released is a four-year-old girl named Abigail. “She has been through terrible trauma, Biden said of Abigail, whose parents were murdered by Hamas during the unprecedented attacks. Also, the 17 hostages, including three Thai nationals, were released outside the terms of the truce.
Those released were among the 240 people who were taken as hostages and captured on October 7, 2023, when Hamas fighters broke through the demilitarised border of Gaza with Israel in the country’s devastating attack. The Hamas operatives killed about 1200 Israelis and foreigners, according to Israeli authorities. In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas governmental authorities
The releases on November 26, 2023, bring the total number of Israelis freed under the deal to 39 since November 24, 2023. In exchange, 39 more Palestinians were freed on the same day, the Israeli prison service said after the release of 78 other Palestinian inmates from Israeli jails over the past two days. On November 24, 2023, Hamas released ten other Thais and a Filipino in a surprise move outside the deal.
The armed wing of Hamas released a video on November 26, 2023, evening showing hostages entering vehicles and then getting them off in Central Gaza City, devastated by Israel’s air and ground offensive.
Israel is facing mounting pressure to extend the pause mediated by Qatar, the United States of America and Egypt. On November 26, 2023, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna told a media agency that it would be good and helpful to extend the truce until all hostages, including the French nationals, are freed. US President Joe Biden also expressed a similar hope so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in Gaza.
A source close to Hamas said that the group was willing to continue the pause. “Hamas informed the mediators that the resistance movement was willing to extend the current truce by two to four days, a source told the international media agency. The resistance believes it is possible to ensure the release of twenty to forty prisoners in that time.
“We will continue to the end, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Gaza on November 26, 2023. Wearing green military fatigues and surrounded by soldiers, he vowed to free the hostages and eliminate Hamas in footage posted online by his office. He spoke while making the first visit to Gaza by an Israeli Premier since 2005.
Netanyahu said that nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the power, strength, will, and determination to achieve all the desired goals. In the city of Khan Yunis in Gaza, residents received a text message from Israeli hostages that said that they knew where the hostages were held. The army will neutralize anyone who has kidnapped hostages, the message said.
The terrible plight of Gazans
Elsewhere in Gaza, following the weeks of bombardments, residents venture back to pick through heaps of rubble where they once used to live. “I came out to see if anything was left or could be salvaged. We fled with nothing, said Oussama al Bass, inspecting the ruins of the city of Al Zahra in southern Gaza.
On the outskirts of Gaza City, families took the road on foot to head south, pushing luggage and relatives in wheelchairs and carrying children in their arms. Among the Israelis freed on November 26, 2023, was Elma Avraham, 84, who was being treated at the Soroka Medical Centre, whose director, Shlomi Kodesh, said that she was in a life-threatening condition but being treated and would be moved to the ICU.
Also freed were sisters Ely, aged eight, and her sister Dafna, 15, whose father was shot dead during the Hamas attack.
In the previous round of releases, there were smiles, kisses, and tears as Israeli hostage Sharon Avigdor freed with her daughter Noam, 12, hugged her son and relatives at Sheba hospital, images from the government press office showed.
On Sunday in Ramallah and Beitunia, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, white International Committee of the Red Cross buses delivered the freed prisoners as waiting crowds flew Hamas and Palestinian flags.
Noorhan Awad, a female prisoner released Saturday, said that when she got out of the police car, “it was a great moment. Freedom is priceless.”
Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said Sunday that its northern brigade commander Ahmed Al-Ghandour and four other senior leaders had been killed, without specifying when.
The pause in fighting has allowed more aid to reach Palestinians struggling to survive with shortages of water and other essentials, but Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), warned of “unprecedented” humanitarian needs. “We should continuously send 200 lorries a day for at least two months,” he said. The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.