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Fragile Gaza truce appears to hold as Hamas releases more hostages – POLITICO

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The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to hold on Sunday as the militant group freed 17 more hostages in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners released from Israel jails, in a third set of releases under a four-day truce.

The released hostages included 14 Israelis and and three foreign nationals, including the first American detainee to be freed from Gaza. Some hostages were handed over directly to Israel, while others left through Egypt, the Associated Press reported.

Negotiations are continuing toward extending the four-day pause in fighting as more humanitarian aid trucks headed into Gaza on Sunday, including to northern areas of the enclave.

“We are making every effort to return our hostages, and we will return them all,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

The prime minister’s office earlier Sunday received a list of the names of the hostages set to be freed and informed the families, Israeli media reported on Sunday. According to Haaretz, at least one of the hostages to be released was Russian and part of a deal between Hamas and Moscow.

The exchanges are part of the truce agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. that started on Friday. Overall, Hamas is set to free 50 hostages in exchange for Israel releasing 150 Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas on Sunday said it is seeking to extend the truce beyond the initial four-day period in order to secure the release of additional Palestinian prisoners. Thus far, 117 Palestinian prisoners have been released, and some 40 are expected to be liberated on Monday, but Israel has a list of 150 more that it could release in the context of an extended truce, according to Israeli media.

On October 7, the armed wing of Hamas led an attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping about 240 more. In retaliation, the Israeli armed forces relentlessly bombarded the Gaza Strip and launched a ground operation, leveling entire neighborhoods and killing over 14,000 Palestinians. About 1.7 million Gazans have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

On Saturday, the second round of hostage-prisoner exchanges was delayed by several hours after Hamas accused Israel of not respecting the truce agreement by not allowing enough humanitarian aid trucks to reach the besieged northern Gaza region. Israel said the delay was due to Hamas losing control in the northern Gaza Strip.

Eventually, 13 Israelis and four Thai citizens were let go in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners late Saturday.

Uncertainty still remains around the third round of exchanges. Pascal Hundt, a senior Red Cross official, told Sky News on Sunday he was “not confident” that more hostages would actually be freed. The Red Cross then issued a clarification, saying the statement was “in no way an indication” that the exchange was doomed, Haaretz reported.

Also on Sunday, the Palestinian Red Crescent announced that a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli forces in Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, while the Palestinian Authority said eight Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Violence in the West Bank has surged in the weeks since Hamas attacked Israel. Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians and arrested hundreds in the West Bank. Jewish West Bank settlers have also stepped up attacks.

Hamas announced that senior commander Ahmed al-Ghandour, who was in charge of northern Gaza, died in the war, Al Jazeera reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Israel this week.

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