TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas entered its fifth day Tuesday, with the militant group promising to release more civilian hostages to make up for the expected delay. resumption of war And Israel is under increasing pressure to release Palestinian civilians if fighting resumes.
The two sides agreed to extend their cease-fire through Wednesday, which includes two other planned exchanges of hostages held by militants in exchange for Palestinians captured by Israel. But Israel has repeatedly vowed to resume the war with "full force" to destroy Hamas once it becomes clear that no more hostages will be freed under the terms of the current agreement.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Ready to visit the area this weekend This is the third time since the war began, and is expected to lead to pressure for an extension of the ceasefire and the release of more hostages.
The State Department said they would also discuss efforts to "protect civilian life during Israel's operations in Gaza" and to accelerate aid deliveries to the impoverished coastal strip. Israel's top ally has pledged unwavering support for its Gaza offensive, but Blinken also said "too many" Palestinians have been killed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his call for a long-term ceasefire and the release of all hostages in a statement on Monday. broad international support For cessation of hostilities.
Hamas and other militants are still holding about 160 of the 240 people they captured as hostages. October 7 attack on southern Israel Which ignited the fire of war. This is enough to potentially extend the ceasefire for another two weeks under the current framework In the mediation of Qatar, Egypt and AmericaBut Hamas is expected to make much higher demands for the release of captured soldiers.
Either way, Israel says it is committed to resuming the war, the deadliest period of Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades. It blames Hamas for the rising number of casualties and accuses the militants of using civilians as human shields while operating in densely populated areas.
Israel has vowed to end Hamas's 16-year rule in Gaza and crush its military capabilities. This will almost certainly require expanding the ground offensive from northern Gaza – where entire residential areas have been reduced to rubble – to the south, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people have flooded into UN shelters.
the hostages were released
Hamas freed another 11 women and children on Monday in the fourth and final swap planned under the initial ceasefire agreement, which took effect on Friday. Israel released 33 Palestinian prisoners.
Monday's release brings to 51 the number of Israelis freed under the ceasefire, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli jails. Israel has said it will extend the ceasefire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released.
The majority of Palestinian prisoners released so far are teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during clashes with Israeli forces. Some were convicted by Israeli courts of attempting to carry out deadly attacks. The prisoners are widely viewed by Palestinians as heroes resisting the occupation.
Most of the freed hostages appeared to be physically fine, but an 84-year-old woman freed on Sunday was hospitalized in serious condition after she was denied medication while in captivity. But, he has remained away from most people's sight details of his captivity Have started emerging.
In one of the first interviews with a free hostageRuti Munder, 78, told Israel's Channel 13 television that she was initially fed good food in captivity, but conditions deteriorated due to shortages. She said she was kept in a "suffocating" room and slept on plastic chairs with sheets for about 50 days.
Israel imposed a complete blockade of Gaza at the beginning of the war and allowed only small amounts of humanitarian aid to enter before the ceasefire, leading to widespread shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel for power generators in the area. Went. Widespread power blackouts.
North Gaza in ruins
The ceasefire has allowed residents remaining in Gaza City and other parts of the north to survey the destruction and try to locate and bury relatives. Footage from northern Gaza, the center of the Israeli ground attack, shows almost every building damaged or destroyed.
UN-led aid consortium It is estimated that more than 234,000 homes have been damaged throughout Gaza and 46,000 have been completely destroyed, amounting to approximately 60% of the housing stock in the territory, which is home to approximately 2.3 million Palestinians. In the north, the destruction of homes and civilian infrastructure "severely compromises the ability to meet basic needs to sustain life".
According to the UN, more than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, about two-thirds of whom are women and minors. Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel's ground attack.
The death toll on the Palestinian side is likely much higher, as the Health Ministry has only sporadically updated its count since November 11. Collapse of the health sector in the North, It also said that thousands of people are missing and are feared trapped under the debris or killed.
fear for the south
Bombings and ground attacks have been carried out by Israel More than 1.8 million people displacedAccording to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, about 80% of Gaza's population, most of whom have sought refuge in the south. Israeli troops have barred people from returning to the north during the ceasefire.
Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered in UN-run schools and other facilities, with many forced to sleep outside on the streets due to overcrowding. It's unclear where they will go if Israel expands its ground campaign Egypt has refused to accept refugees And Israel has sealed its border.
UN says ceasefire has made it possible increase distribution The largest quantity of food, water and medicine since the beginning of the war. But the 160 to 200 trucks a day are still less than half the trucks Gaza was importing before the fighting, even as humanitarian needs have increased.
Juliet Toma, spokeswoman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said people were flocking to shelters seeking heavy clothing, mattresses and blankets, and some were sleeping in damaged vehicles.
“The needs are enormous,” he told The Associated Press. "They've lost everything, and they need everything."
Magee reported from Cairo.
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