Hamas and Israel exchange hostages and prisoners amidst fragile truce

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1st December 2023 – (Gaza) Hamas and Israel carried out a major prisoner and hostage exchange on Thursday, 30th November. The deal, part of a last-minute truce agreement, saw Hamas release eight Israeli hostages, while Israel freed 30 Palestinian prisoners, in the hope of extending the pause in hostilities.

Among the first to be released on the Israeli side were 21-year-old Mia Schem and 40-year-old Amit Soussana. Schem, a French national as well, was captured during a dance party attacked by Hamas militants on 7th October. Their release was followed by six more hostages, transferred to the Red Cross by Hamas, according to the Israeli military. The released individuals included four women aged between 29 to 41, a Mexican-Israeli dual national, and two siblings, Belal and Aisha al-Ziadna, who are Bedouin Arab citizens of Israel.

Images released by Israeli officials showcased emotional reunions. Schem, for instance, was pictured embracing her mother and brother at Hatzerim military base in Israel.

In a parallel move, 30 Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons. This exchange was part of a broader truce agreement, designed to halt the deadly conflict that erupted on 7th October, when Hamas militants attacked and took 240 hostages, resulting in the death of 1,200 people, according to Israeli sources. The violence led to a seven-week bombardment of Gaza by Israel, with over 15,000 Gazans confirmed killed, according to United Nations-endorsed Palestinian health authorities.

While the truce stipulated the release of 10 hostages daily, only eight were freed on Thursday, as Hamas had released two additional hostages the previous day. These actions were described as goodwill gestures by Hamas towards Moscow, considering the released individuals held Israeli-Russian dual nationality.

The truce, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, has brought some relief to Gaza, with 105 hostages released in total, and Israel freeing 240 Palestinian prisoners. However, the humanitarian condition remains dire, with food, water, medical supplies, and fuel deliveries far below required levels. In response, King Abdullah of Jordan urged the UN and international groups to pressure Israel to allow more aid into the beleaguered enclave.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his third Middle East visit since the conflict began, echoed these sentiments. He urged Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to do more to protect civilians before any further military operations. Yet, despite the ongoing negotiations and truce, violence flared again in Jerusalem, with a deadly shooting claimed by Hamas, underscoring the fragility of the situation and the urgent need for a lasting peace solution.