BEIRUT — Israel and Hamas agreed Monday to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza by two days, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry announced, a further respite for the war-battered strip and a relief for the families of Israeli hostages who have yet to be released.

Hamas confirmed the agreement, which would see additional women and children released from captivity in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian women and teens held in Israelis prisons.

The original deal dictated that the pause could be extended by one day for every 10 additional Israeli hostages released; Israel said late Monday it had already received the names of the next group set to be released on Tuesday. Nearly 70 hostages – the majority Israeli but also Thai, Philippine and Russian citizens – and more than 100 Palestinians were released over the first four days, including 11 Israelis and 33 Palestinians on Monday.

“Those released include young children, mothers, and grandmothers,” U.S. President Biden said in a statement Monday. “The humanitarian pause has also enabled a significant surge in additional humanitarian assistance to the innocent civilians who are suffering across the Gaza strip.”

Israel Palestinians

A group of Israelis celebrate as a helicopter carrying hostages released from the Gaza Strip lands at the helipad of the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel, Sunday Nov. 26, 2023. AP Photo/Leo Correa

All day, Palestinians were gripped by apprehension as the clock ticked down on the original four-day pause, which has brought a rare quiet to the skies and relief to residents bracing for the next round of violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that any extension of the pause will be short-lived and that the war will continue – repeating his vow to eliminate the Hamas militant group after its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people.

“We will go back to realizing our goals with full force: eliminating Hamas, ensuring that Gaza will not go back to being what it was and, of course, releasing all of our hostages,” he said in a video statement Sunday.

In addition to the hostage-for-prisoner exchanges, the deal stipulated that hundreds of trucks be allowed to enter Gaza with humanitarian relief, medical supplies and desperately needed fuel.

Spain Diplomacy Gaza

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki flashes a victory sign in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. Delegations from the European Union member states and from Middle East and northern Africa countries met in Barcelona, Spain, to discuss the crisis in Gaza. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said in a statement Sunday that the distribution of aid in southern Gaza had picked up during the first three days of the pause and that fuel for operating generators was being supplied to hospitals, shelters, water desalination plants and pumping stations.

Northern Gaza, where the fighting and bombardment has been most intense, has received a total of 150 trucks containing food, water, milk for infants and other relief, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

The delivery of water to displacement shelters was the first since Oct. 7, according to OCHA, which has expressed concerns about dehydration and the spread of waterborne diseases in the strip, where many families were forced to drink brackish water after Gaza’s last desalination plant shut down.

The pause was an “important step” but much more is needed to “alleviate the dire situation in Gaza and find a way out of this crisis,” E.U. foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Monday. Speaking at the Forum for the Union of the Mediterranean in Barcelona, he said the warring parties must work toward a political solution that would “allow us to break the cycle of violence once and for all.”

“One horror cannot justify another horror,” he said. “The way Israel exercises its right to defense matters.”

Late Monday, 11 Israelis were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross and 33 Palestinians were returned to their families in the occupied West Bank.

Al Jazeera broadcast footage of the hostages being handed over, showing a woman in a wheelchair and several children.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Majed al-Ansari, confirmed that the dual Israeli nationals released included three French citizens, two Germans and six Argentines. All 11 – nine children and two women – were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7.

The Palestinians freed included 30 teenagers and three women, Ansari said.

There were no American citizens among the hostages released Monday; on Sunday, 4-year-old Abigail Edan was the first dual U.S.-Israeli national to be freed. Her parents were killed in front of her on Oct. 7.

“I spoke with Abigail’s family following her release, and we are working closely with our Israeli partners to ensure she gets the care and support she needs as she begins to recover from this unspeakable trauma,” Biden said in his statement.

In Gaza, footage on Al Jazeera showed glimpses of daily life resuming. People lined up in the rain to fill yellow and blue water gallons. In the city of Deir al-Balah, throngs of men and women descended on open-air markets, vying for limited goods – buying greens from trucks or dried goods on the side of the road. Some families returned to their destroyed homes and sat amid the ruins of bedroom walls and kitchen floors, sipping coffee and tea.

Israel Palestinians

A Red Cross convoy carrying Israeli and foreign hostages heads to Egypt from the Gaza Strip at the Rafah border crossing on Sunday. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Gaza City has borne the brunt of the bombardments and ground fighting, driving many inhabitants to flee south. Others, like Hussam Qidra, found themselves trapped, surrounded by gunfire.

“My brothers are in the south and they are suffering too; no point in going south, no safe place anywhere,” he told The Washington Post.

The streets of Gaza’s largest city were littered with dead bodies, he said. Some people come to take them away in donkey carts.

“Most of the streets are bulldozed; (there’s) no life in the city.”

Qidra said the main produce available in the market was tomatoes, sold at more than six times their usual price, while the price of water has increased fivefold. “Luckily I stored up some food, mainly cans, and I’m okay on a personal level,” he said. Today, he said, he and his family would make do on canned white beans.

Qidra said he has no plans to leave his home, whenever the pause ends. “I’d die anywhere, in Gaza City or the south; bombardment is everywhere,” he said. He knew many people who were killed in the south, some while trying to flee, he added.

The Gaza Health Ministry had hoped a pause in hostilities would allow it to update its tally of the dead, which has stood incomplete at more 13,300 since Thursday. But it said there are too many bodies still buried under the rubble to provide an accurate count. On Sunday, the ministry urged Gazans to call a toll-free number to report any relatives who are missing or trapped.

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s civil defense, told The Post that workers had removed about 150 bodies lying on the streets of Gaza City and elsewhere in the north. But their efforts were hindered by a lack of equipment and tools, as well as fuel for excavators – no fuel has reached the north so far.

“At present, the civil defense’s only feasible task, given the current situation, is firefighting,” he said. Two-thirds of their equipment is out of service, he added.

The pause in fighting has revealed the scale of destruction, with entire areas, such as the al-Sabra neighborhood in Gaza City, “completely removed and destroyed,” he said.

“Gaza City has regressed 50 years and is currently unfit for living,” he said. When the war is over, he continued, people will struggle to find a future there.

Shaima Miqdad, 37, told The Post that in the hours before the pause went into effect on Friday, her aunt’s family home in Gaza City was hit by airstrikes, killing her and 15 members of her extended family. The sole relative who survived, a 30-year-old doctor, clawed his way out of the shattered concrete.

“We did not know that they were killed” for days, she said, due to a communication outage across the enclave. Only when the guns fell silent were relatives and neighbors able to recover the bodies of her aunt and some of her children.

“But we have no information about the rest,” Miqdad said. “We hope that the promises that the [truce] can be extended will be true, at least so we can bury our martyrs and extract the rest of them.”


APTOPIX Israel Palestinians

Palestinians walk through destruction in Gaza City on Nov. 24, as the temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect. Mohammed Hajjar/Associated Press


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