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Israel-Hamas ceasefire holds amid more hostage releases, diplomatic efforts

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-12-01 09:39
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A helicopter carrying two Israeli female hostages released from the Gaza Strip arrives at a hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Nov 30, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

JERUSALEM - The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continued on Thursday for the seventh day as more hostages were freed from the Gaza Strip and mediators pressed ahead with the efforts to further extend the fragile truce.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived early Thursday in Israel, marking his fourth visit to the Middle East since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict on Oct 7.

Blinken held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attended the Israeli wartime Cabinet, which was discussing the Qatari-mediated proposals to prolong the ceasefire in Gaza, as well as Israel's plans to resume military operations against Hamas after the hostages were returned.

In remarks to reporters alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog before their meeting, Blinken expressed his hope that the truce, which started on Nov 24, could be extended.

Blinken also stressed the importance of increasing the desperately needed humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the release of more hostages. "This process is producing results. It's important, and we hope that it can continue," he said.

Blinken also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, during which Abbas highlighted the urgent need to implement a "complete" ceasefire in Gaza, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Blinken said that he urged Israel to put civilian protection plans in place to minimize civilian casualties once it resumes operations in Gaza.

The truce persisted following diplomatic efforts throughout the night between Wednesday and Thursday. Late on Wednesday, Hamas stated that Israel rejected a list of hostages slated for release on Thursday. Israel maintains its stance, demanding that Hamas releases a minimum of 10 hostages daily to sustain the ceasefire.

After intensive diplomatic endeavors overnight, Israel abandoned plans to resume fighting at dawn. The Israeli military released a statement just minutes before the truce was set to expire at 0700 (0500 GMT) that "the operational pause will continue."

Following the diplomatic efforts, two female Israeli hostages were released on Thursday evening, the first two out of 10 Israeli hostages expected to be released later at night, according to the Israeli military.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoners Society published a list of eight Palestinian women and 22 children held in Israeli custody, who are slated to be released on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, a deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem served as a stark reminder of the volatile atmosphere and raised concerns about further escalation.

Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire near the entry of Jerusalem, killing three civilians, according to a police statement. Israel's Shin Bet internal security service later identified the two as residents of East Jerusalem linked to Hamas.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, stating it was "a natural response to crimes of occupation in Gaza, the killing of children in Jenin, and the harm to prisoners."

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct 7, and over 6,500 others are missing. In Israel, about 1,200 people were killed, mostly in the Oct 7 Hamas surprise attack on Israel that triggered the conflict.

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