Talks are taking place in Qatar aimed at further extending the ceasefire in Gaza that saw Hamas, the militant group that governs the coastal enclave, on Tuesday release a further 12 hostages seized in its attack on Israel on October 7th.
With the existing ceasefire agreement entering its final day on Wednesday, having been extended by two days, Israel says it is unwilling to expand the pause in fighting beyond next Sunday and remains determined to renew the war at the end of the truce.
In the ongoing talks in Doha, Mossad chief David Barnea, CIA head William Burns,Qatari prime minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani and Egypt’s intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, are focused on broadening the pool of Israeli hostages eligible for release after Wednesday. Such a scenario would require Hamas to start releasing Israeli male captives and possibly also soldiers, who together make up the bulk of the remaining hostages.
Ten Israeli women were released on Tuesday night, along with two foreign nationals, in the fifth hostage release instalment. In exchange for the hostages, 30 Palestinian prisoners, most of them East Jerusalem residents, were set to be released by Israel on Tuesday night.
Tuesday also saw the first significant infringement of the ceasefire in place since Friday, with clashes between Israeli troops and Hamas gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli military spokesman said militants exploded three explosive devices and shot at troops. Hamas accused Israel of violating the truce.
Humanitarian organisations have used the ceasefire to increase the amount of food, water, medicine and fuel entering Gaza each day but the United Nations World Food Programme warned that the population of Gaza risks famine if humanitarian food supplies do not continue.
Six days is “not enough to make any meaningful impact”, the agency said, calling for “uninterrupted and regular supplies” of food into Gaza. “Thanks to the pause, our teams have been in action on the ground, going into areas we haven’t reached for a long time. What we see is catastrophic,” said WFP’s director for the Middle East, Corinne Fleischer. She warned,of the likelihood of famine.
more hostages being released each day, a clearer picture is emerging about their time in captivity.
Eitan Yahalomi (12) told his relatives that he was forced to watch Hamas footage of the murders and atrocities that took place on October 7th, when Hamas gunmen entered 22 Israeli communities, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 14,500 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory campaign.
For the first 16 days of his captivity, he was kept alone in a closed room, Eitan said. Every time a child cried, the Hamas guards threatened him with a rifle to keep quiet.
None of those released reported physical violence but medical officials reported significant weight loss among all the returnees. Food was scarce, particularly during the final days before their release. Pita bread and canned hummus was the staple diet with a small portion of rice on days when pita was unavailable. Some returnees reported that some days there was no food at all.
Some of the hostages were kept over ground, others in tunnels. Some reported sleeping on the floor or on benches or chairs. A few said they were in total darkness most of the time.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit the region this week. US state department spokesman Matthew Miller said Mr Blinken would “discuss Israel’s right to defend itself consistent with international humanitarian law, as well as continued efforts to secure the release of remaining hostages”.
Washington is also exerting pressure on Israel to ensure that the scale of displacement in the northern Gaza Strip must not be replicated in the south if Israeli forces operate there.