Hamas releases hostages | Philstar.com

The Philippine Star

October 22, 2023 | 12:00am

RAFAH – Hamas released two American hostages held in Gaza, offering a “sliver of hope” to desperate families as the first 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid entered the war-torn and besieged region through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The Islamist group took more than 200 people hostage when it stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, and killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign and cut food, water, electricity and fuel supplies to the densely populated and long-blockaded territory of 2.4 million people, sparking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The fate of the hostages has been shrouded in uncertainty, so the release of mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan offered a rare “sliver of hope,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

US President Joe Biden said he was “overjoyed” by the release and that he had spoken to the released pair and promised US support “as they recover from this terrible ordeal.”

He thanked Qatar, which hosts Hamas’ political bureau, for its mediation in securing the release, and said he was working “around the clock” to win the return of other Americans being held.

Hamas said Egypt and Qatar had negotiated the release and it was “working with all mediators to implement the movement’s decision to close the civilian (hostage) file if appropriate security conditions allow.”

The release comes days after Biden visited Israel to express solidarity with the wounded country and press for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

AFP journalists saw 20 trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent, which is responsible for delivering aid from various UN agencies, pass through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, and the first trucks entering Gaza on the other side.

The crossing – the only one into Gaza not controlled by Israel – closed again after the trucks passed. The lorries had been waiting for days on the Egyptian side after Israel agreed to allow aid to enter following a request from the United States.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the convoy “must not be the last” and that the delivery would start “a sustainable effort to provide essential supplies” to Gaza.

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that the aid was “the difference between life and death” for many Gazans.

But World Health Organization emergencies director Michael Ryan said Biden’s deal for an initial 20-truck delivery was “a drop in the ocean of need” and that 2,000 trucks were required.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, and says around 1,500 of the group’s fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area under attack on Oct. 7.

Israel’s military campaign has leveled entire city blocks in Gaza, killing 4,137 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Israeli troops are massed on the border with Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion that officials have pledged will begin soon.

But a full-blown land offensive carries many risks, including to the hostages from Israel and around the world held by Hamas.

Israel’s military said on Friday “the majority” of those abducted are still alive, while traumatized families demanded more action.

“Absolutely nothing has been done,” Assaf Shem Tov, whose nephew was abducted from a music festival, said Friday.

“We ask humanity to interfere and bring back all those young boys, young girls, mothers, babies.”


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