SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 21 February 2024, Wednesday |

Killing of Palestinian farmer casts shadow on third day of truce

A Palestinian farmer was killed on Sunday after being targeted by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip’s Maghazi refugee camp, highlighting the fragility of the truce between Israel and Hamas fighters, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The revelation elicited no response from Israel, but there were concerns that it could jeopardize the third phase of plans to swap 50 Palestinian terrorist group captives for 150 Israeli inmates over a four-day period.

A senior Palestinian source said Sunday’s phase looked “complicated”. Asked by Reuters if the farmer’s killing could delay a third batch of releases, the source replied: “I don’t know.”

Maghazi, in the central part of the Gaza Strip, is a long-established home to the families or descendents of refugees from the 1948 war over the creation of the state of Israel.

In a further sign of tension, COGAT, the Israeli agency for civilian coordination with the Palestinians, accused Hamas of blocking trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to northern Gaza at a checkpoint.

Thirteen Israelis and four Thai nationals 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 had to mediate to maintain the truce, the first halt in fighting since Hamas fighters rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

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. Some 14,800 people, roughly 40% of them children, have been killed, Palestinian health authorities said on Saturday.

The armed wing of Hamas also announced on Sunday the killing of four of its military commanders in the Gaza Strip, including the commander of the North Gaza brigade, Ahmad Al Ghandour. However, it was not clear when they had been killed.

Qatar, Egypt and the United States are pressing for the truce to be extended beyond Monday but 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.

FREED HOSTAGES

Six of the 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.

Even before the Oct. 7 attacks from Gaza, the West Bank had been in a state of unrest, with a rise in Israeli army raids, Palestinian attacks, and violence by Israeli settlers in the past 18 months. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Oct. 7, some in Israeli air strikes.

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.

AID DISPUTE

The deal risked being derailed when Hamas’ armed wing said on Saturday it was delaying releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to let aid trucks into northern Gaza.

Saving the deal took a day of diplomacy mediated by Qatar and Egypt, which U.S. President Joe Biden also joined.

Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said only 65 of 340 aid trucks that had entered Gaza since Friday had reached northern Gaza, or “less than half of what Israel agreed on”.

Al-Qassam Brigades also said Israel had failed to respect terms for the release of Palestinian prisoners that factored in their time in detention.

Israel’s COGAT said that 200 humanitarian aid trucks carrying food, water, shelter and medical supplies were being sent on Sunday via the Rafah crossing to relief organisations in Gaza.

In a subsequent post on social media site X, COGAT accused Hamas of obstructing their efforts to reach the north of the strip. “To Hamas, residents of Gaza are their last priority,” it said.

Saturday also brought hours of waiting for the families of hostages, some of whose joy was tempered by the continued captivity of others.

“My heart is split because my son, Itay, is still in Hamas’ captivity in Gaza,” Mirit Regev, the mother of Maya Regev, who was released late on Saturday, said in a statement from the Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

Also released was Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand, initially feared killed, who spent her ninth birthday in captivity before being freed along with 12-year-old Hila Rotem, whose mother remains in captivity.

“We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have yet to return,” Hand’s family said in a statement.

    Source:
  • Reuters