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Israel-Palestine war: Third batch of Palestinian prisoners released as Hamas willing to extend truce

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to continue war during visit to Gaza
Palestinian prisoners gesture from a Red Cross bus after being released from Israeli jails in exchange for hostages released by Hamas from Gaza, in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on 26 November 2023 (AFP)

Hamas and Israel on Sunday engaged in a third prisoner exchange that saw another 39 Palestinians freed from Israeli detention, while 13 Israelis held in Gaza were released by Hamas.

The exchange took place for the third straight day amid a temporary four-day truce in Gaza, the first such halt of fighting since the war began on 7 October. 

Ahead of the arrival of the buses filled with the prisoners, massive crowds of Palestinians filled the streets of Ramallah in anticipation and celebration.

And once they got off the bus, the prisoners, wearing grey sweatshirts and sweatpants, were paraded throughout the city just like the group of freed prisoners were the previous night.

Many Palestinian prisoners released in the past few days have told media that their treatment under Israeli detention was brutal, and they were subject to beatings and harsh conditions.

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"The situation in the prisons is very tough, it's humiliation. We don't have anything, we are deprived from everything," Omar al-Atshan, who was sentenced at 15 years old, told Al Jazeera after being freed on Sunday and returning to his home.

"I hope all prisoners will be released."

In Beitunia, located near Ramallah, Palestinians also gathered for a night of celebration. However, Israeli forces fired live rounds and tear gas upon them and injured three, including a 15-year-old and 18-year-old, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

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The truce between Hamas and Israel is supposed to see around 150 Palestinian women and children prisoners and 50 Israelis held in Gaza be released over a period of four days.

Hamas, for its part, released 13 Israeli prisoners, including nine children, as well as and four foreign nationals – three Thais and one Israeli-Russian.

US President Joe Biden said that that a four-year-old Israeli-American girl whose parents were killed on 7 October was also freed.

Hamas said in a statement that the Israeli-Russian dual national was released "in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts and in recognition of Russia’s position in support of Palestine". The Russian is the first male prisoner to be released by Hamas in the truce deal.

While the truce agreement has held up so far, there were fears on Saturday that it would fall apart after Hamas accused Israel of violating it, leading to a delay in the exchange of prisoner.

Fears that the war could widen also have remained, with an Israeli-linked tanker being seizing in the Red Sea on Sunday. This comes a week after Yemen's Houthis seized another Israeli-linked ship.

Israeli air strikes on Sunday also made the Damascus airport in Syria inoperable just hours after flights had resumed following a similar attack last month, a war monitor said.

Netanyahu vows to continue war, makes visit to Gaza

Hamas said on Sunday that it is willing to extend the truce, on the condition that Israel makes efforts to increase the number of Palestinians released from Israeli detention.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the Financial Times that in order for any truce to be extended beyond the four days originally agreed upon, Hamas must locate 40 other Israelis that are not being held by the group in Gaza.

"If they get additional women and children, there will be an extension," Sheikh Mohammed told the newspaper. "We don't have any clear information how many they can find because ... one of the purposes [of the pause] is they [Hamas] will have time to search for the rest of the missing people."

Qatar has been playing as a mediator between Israel, the US, and Hamas during the current war.

Israel-Palestine war: Gaza truce offers Palestinians the chance to sleep, eat and recover
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Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera that he expected US President Biden to push Israel to end its war on Gaza.

“President Biden has the ability to make an end to the Israeli offensive against Gaza. He has the power to do that and talking about extending the ceasefire is not the solution," said Hamdan, who was speaking from Beirut.

Biden has urged both parties to extend the truce deal to allow for more releases, however, has not called for an end to the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also made it clear he intends to continue the war once the truce ends.

On Sunday, Netanyahu visited Gaza, marking the first visit to the besieged enclave by an Israeli prime minister in around two decades.

"We continue until the end – until victory," he told soldiers in Gaza.

"Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the power, the strength, the will and the determination to achieve all the war’s goals, and we will."

Israel's military operation in Gaza has killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, with more than half of them being women and children, and has also left entire neighbourhoods in rubble.

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