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Hamas hands over two female hostages, others expected after truce extended

Hamas hands over two female hostages, others expected after truce extended

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Hamas hands over two female hostages, others expected after truce extended

Two Israeli women have been handed to the Red Cross in Gaza City, Israel said on Thursday, and further hostages are expected to be released later in the evening, following a last-minute deal struck by Israel and Hamas.

Israel named the women as 21-year-old Mia Schem, who was seized at a dance party along with many of the other hostages abducted into Gaza, and 40-year-old Amit Sosana. Schem also holds French nationality.

The warring sides agreed to extend their ceasefire for a seventh day, while mediators pressed on with talks to extend the truce further to free more hostages and let aid reach Gaza.

The truce has halted bombing and allowed some humanitarian aid into Gaza after much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million people was reduced to wasteland in an Israeli campaign in retaliation for a deadly rampage by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

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The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for a deadly shooting in Jerusalem, which Israel called further proof of the need to destroy the militants, although there were no signs of this scuppering the Gaza truce or release of hostages.

Earlier, Israel, which has demanded Hamas release at least 10 hostages per day to hold the ceasefire, said it received a list at the last minute of those who would go free on Thursday, allowing it to call off plans to resume fighting at dawn.

“In light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the framework, the operational pause will continue,” the Israeli military said in a statement, released minutes before the truce was due to expire at 0500 GMT.

Hamas, which freed 16 hostages on Wednesday while Israel released 30 Palestinian prisoners, also said the truce would continue for a seventh day.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Israel during his third visit to the Middle East since the war began, said the truce was “producing results. It’s important, and we hope it can continue”.

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“We have seen over the last week the very positive development of hostages coming home, being reunited with their families. And that should continue today,” he said. “It’s also enabled an increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately.”

US officials said Blinken also told the Israelis to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians once the war resumes.

Egypt’s state media body said Egyptian and Qatari mediators were working to negotiate a further extension of the truce for two days.

So far militants have released 97 hostages during the truce: 70 Israeli women, teenagers and children, each freed in return for three Palestinian women and teenage detainees, plus 27 foreign hostages freed under parallel agreements with their governments.

With fewer Israeli women and children left in captivity, extending the truce could require setting new terms for the release of Israeli men, including soldiers.

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THREE KILLED IN JERUSALEM ATTACK

Shortly after the agreement, two Palestinian attackers opened fire at a bus stop during morning rush hour at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing at least three people. Both attackers were “neutralised”, police said.

“This event proves again how we must not show weakness, that we must speak to Hamas only through (rifle) scopes, only through war,” said hard-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the site of the attack.

Hamas said the attackers were its members, and its armed wing claimed responsibility for the attack in response “to the occupation’s crimes of killing children and women in Gaza”.

But neither side appeared to treat the attack as an explicit renunciation of the truce. A Palestinian official familiar with the truce talks said its terms did not apply to what he characterised as responses to Israeli attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

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Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, in response to the Oct. 7 rampage by the militant group, when Israel says gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

Until the truce, Israel bombarded the territory for seven weeks. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 Gazans have been confirmed killed, around 40% of them children. A further 6,500 are missing, many feared still buried under rubble.

DESTROYED HOMES

According to the United Nations, up to 80% of Gazans have been forced from their homes, including nearly all residents of the northern half, which Israel ordered completely evacuated. Once the truce is over, Israel is expected to extend its ground campaign into the south.

Gazans have been able to use the week-long truce to venture out, visit abandoned and destroyed homes, and dig scores more bodies out of the wreckage. But residents and international agencies say the aid that has arrived so far is still trivial compared to the besieged enclave’s vast humanitarian needs.

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Those who fled the north of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, have still been blocked from returning. Many thousands of families are sleeping rough in makeshift shelters with only the belongings they could carry.

“What is a truce that doesn’t bring us back home? Israeli soldiers on tanks fired at us when we tried to go back to check on our homes in Gaza City after we heard it was bombed,” said Mohammad Joudat, 25, a displaced business administration graduate, speaking in Deir al-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip.

The United States, which has strongly backed its ally so far, is urging Israel to narrow the zone of combat and clarify where Palestinian civilians can seek safety during any Israeli operation in southern Gaza, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, to prevent a repeat of the massive death toll so far.

Jordan was hosting a conference attended by the main U.N., regional and international relief agencies on Thursday to coordinate aid to Gaza. 

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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