ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Fifth group of Gaza hostages set to be freed by Hamas, on 1st day of truce extension

Total of 20 abductees expected to return by Wednesday night; IDF accuses Hamas of violating ceasefire; Ahed Tamimi on list of security inmates who may be freed by Israel

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

A mural in the Florentin neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv calling for the release of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, November 28, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A mural in the Florentin neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv calling for the release of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, November 28, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A fifth group of Israeli hostages was set to be released by Palestinian terror group Hamas on Tuesday after 53 days in captivity in the Gaza Strip.

An initial four-day ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas that had been due to expire has been extended by two days, with two more batches of hostages — estimated to consist of 10 abductees each — set to go free on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The ceasefire deal, reached last week, provided for the release of 50 Israeli women and children kidnapped by Hamas during its October 7 onslaught, in which 1,200 people were murdered, most of them civilians, and more than 240 were taken hostage.

In the first four days, Hamas released a total of 30 Israeli children and 20 Israeli women, 10 of them mothers of freed kids, as well as an Israeli-Russian man set free as a gesture to Moscow, and 18 foreigners — 17 Thais and a Filipino — released as part of a separate, Iran-brokered deal.

In return, Israel has freed 150 female and underage Palestinians serving time in Israeli prison for security offenses.

The deal stipulated that the ceasefire could be extended by more days — up to a total of 10 days, including the first four — if Hamas releases at least 10 additional hostages each day, with Israel freeing more security inmates at a ratio of three prisoners for every hostage.

Israeli troops walk past destroyed buildings along the Salaheddine road which links the northern Gaza Strip with the south in the Zeitoun district on the outskirts of Gaza City on November 28, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Israel, Qatar and the US confirmed Monday that the temporary truce had been extended by two days. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Hamas had agreed to release 20 hostages over the two days, and that efforts were underway to extend the pause further.

The Israeli government, for its part, approved a list of 50 female security prisoners poised for potential early release as part of the truce agreement’s extension, in addition to a previously compiled list of 300 inmates. The Prime Minister’s Office said in a brief statement that the government okayed the list “should additional Israeli hostages be released.”

The Justice Ministry published the list of the 50 additional names late Monday. It included Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested three weeks ago after saying in a social media post directed at West Bank settlers: “We will slaughter you and you will say that what Hitler did to you was a joke, we will drink your blood and eat your skulls.”

File: Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, as she waits to meet with the Tunisian president in the capital Tunis on October 2, 2018. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

News of the extension bolstered hopes for families of the approximately 175 Israelis and foreigners still held in Gaza, including Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage, who was 9 months old when he was captured along with his parents and 4-year-old brother from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

The baby’s aunt Ofri Bibas pleaded Tuesday for the family’s release as soon as possible, telling reporters: “We’re really worried about the 10-month-old baby with formula as the main diet.”

The IDF said Monday that the Bibas family had been transferred by Hamas to another Palestinian terror group in Gaza, dampening hopes of their release during the current truce.

Ofri Bibas said she had no information on who is holding them, but called the failure to release them psychological warfare.

“It’s working really well because the last four days have been a big nightmare,” she said. “I hope they don’t hold them as a trophy.”

The Bibas family, father Yarden, mother Shiri, baby Kfir and four-year-old Ariel, were taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from Kibbutz Nir Oz (Courtesy)

Sources told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Mossad chief David Barnea was in Doha for the third time since the start of the war, holding talks with CIA director Bill Burns and top Qatari officials as Doha mediates between Israel and Hamas.

The talks are focused on ensuring the smooth release of the additional 20 hostages and possibly expanding the temporary truce for more days in order to ensure the release of all the women and children.

Israel believes there are up to 83 women and 10 children being held by the terror groups, excluding five female soldiers who are not included in the current deal, and believes the next two days are critical in getting Hamas to extend the deal to include all of them.

A composite photo of the 10 children who remained hostage in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as of November 28, 2023. Top L-R: Amit Shani, Liam Or, Itay Regev, Aisha Ziyadne, Bilal Ziyadne. Bottom L-R: Ofir Engel, Gali Tarshansky, Mia Leimberg, Kfir Bibas and Ariel Bibas (Pictures: Courtesy; Combination image: The Times of Israel)

Israel has vowed to renew its offensive in Gaza, aimed at rooting out Hamas, in full force once the truce ends.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces accused Hamas of violating the ceasefire, saying a number of soldiers had suffered light injuries in attacks by the terror group.

According to the IDF, three explosive devices were detonated near forces at two separate locations in northern Gaza, with gunfire also directed at troops in one of the incidents. The IDF said troops returned fire.

“In both cases, the IDF forces were within the agreed ceasefire lines,” it added.

Hamas had accused the IDF of violating the ceasefire first, with the spokesman for its military wing saying fighters had responded to a “clear violation” of the ceasefire by the IDF, which resulted in a clash. Hamas provided no further details, saying it was “committed to the truce as long as the enemy adheres to it.”

Ravid Katz, resident of Kibbutz Nir Oz, who was believed to be a captive in Gaza, was later identified as killed in the Hamas assault of October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

Also on Tuesday, the family of Ravid Katz, who was believed to have been taken hostage on October 7, announced that they had been informed that he had been killed in the attack, and that his body had been identified.

Katz was the brother of Doron Katz-Asher, who was released last week along with her daughters Raz, 5, and Aviv, 2.

“Ravid lived in Kibbutz Nir Oz, was a man of education, of the beautiful Land of Israel, a wonderful father to Shahar, Shira and little Alma who is six months old, and a partner to Revital. We will always remember him,” brother-in-law Yoni Asher said in a statement.

Tal Schneider and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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