10 Israelis, 4 Thai nationals have been released by Hamas: IDF

10 Israelis, 4 Thai nationals have been released by Hamas: IDF

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hamas released 16 hostages late Wednesday in the last swap for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under the current Gaza truce as international mediators raced to seal another extension to allow further exchanges and prolong the halt of Israel’s air and ground offensive.

The Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals had been returned to Israel, where they were being taken to hospitals to be reunited with their families. Earlier, two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release. Israel was set to free 30 Palestinian prisoners in return.

Negotiators were working down to the wire to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce beyond its Upnewsdaily of early Thursday. The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, and the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.

International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis. Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.

Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war.

“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”

He spoke ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases. Blinken arrived in Israel late Wednesday.

This photo released by the GPO, Meirav Tal, center, reunites with her family, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Sourasky Medical Center, Israel, after being released from Hamas captivity. (GPO/Handout via AP)
This photo released by the GPO, Meirav Tal, center, reunites with her family, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Sourasky Medical Center, Israel, after being released from Hamas captivity. (GPO/Handout via AP)

With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.

So far, most of the 180 Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.

Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decades-long military occupation of lands they want for a future state.

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