ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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Truce fell apart after Hamas refused to release more female Israeli hostages

Israeli official says Hamas doesn’t want to release remaining women because it doesn’t want them speaking publicly about what they endured on Oct. 7 and in their time in captivity

Illustrative: A Hamas terrorist stands guard as a Red Cross vehicle transports newly released hostages in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023. (AFP)
Illustrative: A Hamas terrorist stands guard as a Red Cross vehicle transports newly released hostages in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2023. (AFP)

The temporary truce between Israel and Hamas broke down this week after the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza refused to release 10 more female hostages, and instead sought to free abductees taken on October 7 from other categories, in violation of the agreement, Israeli officials said Friday.

The terms of the deal, brokered by Qatar, specified that Hamas would first release all women and children being held in Gaza and Israel would agree to a pause in fighting for up to 10 days, the Walla news site reported Friday, citing three Israeli officials.

“This deal was about women and children – we believe Hamas is lying about the number of women in their possession,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Friday.

The truce lasted seven days, beginning last Friday, November 24, with the first release of a group of hostages after some 50 days in Hamas captivity, and broke down early Friday morning with the resumption of fighting. During the truce, 105 civilians were released from Gaza, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and 1 Filipino, in exchange for 210 Palestinian prisoners, all of them women or minors. Israel also allowed an influx of humanitarian aid into the Strip.

The pause was the first in almost eight weeks of war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 shock assault on southern Israel in which thousands of terrorists massacred some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took some 240 hostages

Ahead of the eighth day of the truce, Hamas failed to propose a list of hostages set for release that would be acceptable to Israel in the final hours, as stipulated in the deal, and instead sent a message through Qatari and Egyptian mediators that it was prepared to release male hostages. Hamas had also proposed to release bodies of hostages it said were killed during captivity.

Israel responded by saying that it knows Hamas is still holding roughly 17 more women and two children, including the youngest hostage — Kfir Bibas — who is 10 months old, and that it would not hold talks on other categories of hostages until all female and child abductees are released.

Israelis hold photographs of the Bibas family at a press conference calling for the release of 10-month-old Kfir, 4-year-old Ariel, and their parents Shiri and Yarden. at ‘Hostages Square’ in Tel Aviv, November 28, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hamas was supposed to release Kfir Bibas, Ariel Bibas, 4, and mother Shiri Bibas, 32, this week and violated the multi-day truce agreement when it failed to do so, according to the Israeli military. Father Yarden Bibas, 34, was taken hostage separately. Hamas claims the mother and children are dead and released a propaganda video of the father asking for his family to be returned to Israel for burial. The IDF said this week that it notified the family that it was investigating the “cruel and inhumane” Hamas claim, slamming the “psychological terrorism” inflicted by the group.

Mossad chief David Barnea warned Hamas through mediators overnight Thursday-Friday that the IDF would resume its fighting if another group of women and children weren’t released Friday.

Barnea was often in Qatar during the truce to speak with negotiators and mediators.

Hamas responded to Israel’s warning by firing a rocket roughly one hour before the truce was slated to expire at 7 a.m. Friday.

The US backed Israel in pointing the finger at Hamas, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “began firing rockets before the pause ended, and… reneged on the commitments it made in terms of releasing certain hostages.”

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Al Arabiya that Israel was responsible for the truce collapse, claiming that Jerusalem sought to include female soldiers in the list of hostages it wanted released and refused all other Hamas proposals.

Two Israeli officials told the Walla news site that Hamas recognizes the importance of the remaining female hostages and therefore was trying to hold onto them for longer, to extract more for their release.

Israeli Noa Argamani is seen being kidnapped by Hamas terrorists during the massacre of the Supernova desert rave in the south on October 7, 2023. (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Another Israeli official told Walla that Hamas doesn’t want to release the remaining female hostages because it doesn’t want them speaking publicly about what they endured on October 7 and during their time in captivity.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the talks to restart the truce would continue, albeit under fire.

“We believe that applying more military pressure on Hamas could lead to further hostage releases in the future, as we saw in the recent pause,” the official said. “It is a very high priority for us to get as many hostages released as possible and for that, under agreed terms, Israel is willing to give additional pauses.”

At least 130 people are still believed to be held hostage in Gaza, over 100 of them men, civilian and military, in addition to the women and two children. The vast majority of the hostages are Israeli. Eleven are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand.

In addition, four hostages were released earlier in the war, one was rescued, and three bodies of hostages were recovered during Israeli military operations in Gaza.

Israelis take part in a prayer for the release of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, December 1, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Friday, the first day following the collapse of the truce deal, the military confirmed the deaths in captivity of four hostages taken on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

The kibbutz named them as Aryeh Zalmanovich, 85, the oldest of the 240 people kidnapped by Hamas, Maya Goren, 56, a legendary kindergarten teacher in the community, and Ronen Engel, 54, whose wife and two daughters were returned to Israel earlier this week after being abducted alongside him.

The IDF later confirmed their deaths, along with that of fellow Nir Oz resident Eliyahu Margalit, 75, whose daughter was released from Hamas captivity on Thursday.

Kibbutz Be’eri also announced the death of a resident who was taken hostage. The kibbutz said Ofra Keidar, 70, died while in captivity in Gaza. The statement did not detail how and when she died.

“Her body is in the hands of Hamas. We demand her return along with the other hostages,” the statement added.

Also Friday, Israeli troops operating in Gaza recovered the body of Ofir Tzarfati, who was taken hostage by Hamas on October 7, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency said.

Tzarfati was declared captive after going missing at the Supernova rave festival near Kibbutz Re’im amid the Hamas massacre at the outdoor festival, where some 360 people were killed.

Tzarfati’s family was notified of his death, following an identification process carried out by medical and rabbinical military officials, the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, and the Israel Police.

In a joint military and Shin Bet operation, Tzarfati’s body was brought back to Israel for burial on Friday morning.

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