Four-year-old Israeli-American orphan in latest Hamas hostage release

A four-year-old Israeli-American girl, who knew enough to run to a neighbour’s for shelter when Hamas militants stormed her kibbutz, has been released, US President Joe Biden says.

The militant group has freed 13 Israeli hostages, three Thais and one with Russian citizenship on the third day of a truce with Israel.

In return, Israeli authorities have released another group of 39 Palestinian prisoners as on previous days in the truce, BBC reported its prison service as saying.

Biden said he hoped the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas can go on as long as prisoners are getting released. He said he hoped more US citizens would be released by Hamas although he did not have firm news.

Biden said the four-year-old hostage, Abigail Edan, had witnessed her parents being killed by Hamas fighters during their October 7 raid into Israel and had been held since then. She was three at the time, turning four last Friday.

“What she endured is unthinkable,” Biden said in the US.

The four-day truce is the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas killed 1200 people and took about 240 hostages back into Gaza.

In response to that attack, Israel has vowed to destroy the Hamas militants who run Gaza, bombarding the enclave and mounting a ground offensive in the north.

About 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met security forces inside the Gaza Strip and indicated that the campaign was far from over.

“Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the strength, the power, the will and the determination to achieve all the goals of the war, and that is what we will do,” he said.

The killing of a Palestinian farmer in the central Gaza Strip had earlier added to concerns over the fragility of the truce.

The farmer was killed when targeted by Israeli forces east of Gaza’s long-established Maghazi refugee camp, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Thirteen Israelis and four Thai citizens arrived in Israel early on Sunday after a second release of hostages held by Hamas following an initial delay caused by a dispute about aid delivery into Gaza.

Egypt and Qatar acted as mediators on Saturday to maintain the truce.

Qatar, Egypt and the US are pressing for the truce to be extended beyond Monday. It is not clear whether that will happen.

Israel had said the ceasefire could be extended if Hamas continued to release at least 10 hostages a day.

A Palestinian source had said up to 100 hostages could go free.

Six of the group of 13 Israelis released on Saturday were women and seven were teenagers or children.

The youngest was three-year-old Yahel Shoham, freed with her mother and brother, although her father remains a hostage.

Israel freed 39 Palestinians – six women and 33 teenagers – from two prisons, the Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

Some of the Palestinians arrived at Al-Bireh Municipality Square in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where thousands of citizens awaited them, a Reuters journalist said.

Violence flared in the West Bank where Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians, including two minors and at least one gunman, late on Saturday and early Sunday, medics and local sources said.

Saturday’s swap follows the previous day’s initial release of 13 Israeli hostages, including children and the elderly, by Hamas in return for the release of 39 Palestinian women and teenagers from Israeli prisons.

The four Thais freed on Saturday “want a shower and to contact their relatives”, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on social media platform X.

All were safe and showed few ill-effects, he said.

“I’m so happy, I’m so glad, I can’t describe my feeling at all,” Thongkoon Onkaew told Reuters by telephone after news of the release of her son Natthaporn, 26, the family’s sole breadwinner.

-with AAP

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