Temporary cease-fire in Gaza extended ahead of another exchange of hostages
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A deal has been struck to extend the temporary cease-fire in Gaza. That is according to officials in Qatar who have been mediating between Israel and Hamas. Hamas also said in a statement that a deal has been reached. This comes as Israel and Hamas hold another round of hostage and prisoner swaps. Hamas has handed over 11 hostages. Israel is poised to release 33 Palestinian prisoners in exchange. NPR's Brian Mann is following developments from Tel Aviv. Hey there, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: OK. Start with details of what we know about this extension of the truce. It is still temporary.
MANN: That's right. This first prisoner exchange agreement was for four days, and that ends tonight. So this new deal - really hammered out at the very last minute - will stretch the cease-fire another two days. It was negotiated with the help of officials in Egypt, Qatar and the U.S. And the framework appears to be that each additional day of the pause, Hamas will release roughly another 10 Israeli hostages. Israeli officials have signaled a willingness to release three Palestinian prisoners for every Israeli hostage that's let go. Again, we're waiting to see details of that confirmed by Israel. But a short time ago, President Biden thanked the parties involved for working out this arrangement. And Biden said - I'm quoting here, Mary Louise - "we will not stop until all of the hostages held by Hamas terrorists are released."
KELLY: And I understand this latest group of Israeli hostages has now been released. What do we know?
MANN: According to the Israeli military, another 11 Israeli hostages, among them some very young children, are now out. The Red Cross brought them out of Gaza a short time ago. Now that they're safely in Israel, buses will transport 33 Palestinian prisoners to locations in Jerusalem and the West Bank. So despite incredible anger and distrust on both sides, this arrangement has continued to succeed so far and will now continue through Wednesday. One notable thing here is how Israelis are responding to these releases. I've been in the big square here in Tel Aviv, where people are gathering, and there just aren't big celebrations. There's joy, but it's a solemn joy as Israelis remain focused on the hostages who haven't come home. Today many of these hostages released are very young children who still have parents left behind, still held hostage in Gaza.
KELLY: Step back and let me - step back from the - today's news and let me just ask this. Is there any sign that what we're still calling a temporary cease-fire, a pause - that this could lead to something more permanent?
MANN: There's not. At this point, there's not a sign of that. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to say bluntly, this war will resume as soon as this hostage-for-prisoner exchange process plays out. Leaders of Israel's military have said the same thing. And this is something I'm hearing from Israelis on the street. They want the hostages home. That's the first priority. But there's a lot of popular support for fighting Hamas until the organization is wiped out. You know, Hamas' attack October 7 killed roughly 1,200 people. They took an estimated 240 prisoners. That was a shock. And people here say they won't feel safe until Hamas is gone from Israel's borders.
KELLY: And then speak to the situation inside Gaza because that's been a goal of this pause - to let food, to let aid reach the people who are still there. What do we know? Is aid making its way inside Gaza?
MANN: Yeah. I spoke to an official with the World Health Organization today. A lot of food and fuel and medical supplies are reaching the hardest-hit areas of Gaza. But it's important to say things are really grim. Parts of this densely populated community have been flattened. The last 24 hours, heavy rains have been falling. That's adding to the misery. NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, was able to talk to a man named Hatem Selmy from Gaza City who's just struggling to survive.
HATEM SELMY: (Non-English language spoken).
MANN: Selmy told us that life was just catastrophic in the days leading up to this truce. He said no food and no water. He says once the cease-fire started, he and the seven members of his family did get a little help, some relief. But he says there just wasn't not enough. There's too little aid to meet the demand, he told us. So far, according to officials in Gaza, more than 13,300 Palestinians have died, many of them civilians. So the experts I've been speaking to, Mary Louise, say until the war really ends, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is going to keep growing.
KELLY: Yeah. Brian, you are there in Israel. But before I let you go, I want to ask about something that happened here in the U.S. - the three Palestinian men who were shot and wounded over the weekend in Vermont. You spoke to the mother of one of the men. She lives in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. What did she tell you?
MANN: Yeah. Elizabeth Price is the mother of Hisham Awartani, one of those Palestinian college students. She told me by phone today from Ramallah that she and her husband decided it would be better for their son to stay in the U.S. through the holidays because of the war in Gaza and the growing violence in the West Bank.
ELIZABETH PRICE: The last six weeks have been a time of great suffering in Palestine, and we have suffered. My husband didn't want Hisham to come back for Christmas 'cause he thought America would be safe and safer than Palestine.
MANN: So now she and her husband are racing to travel from Ramallah to the U.S. And the man accused of shooting these Palestinian men, Jason Eaton, pleaded not guilty in court today in Vermont.
KELLY: That is NPR's Brian Mann reporting for us from Tel Aviv. Thank you, Brian.
MANN: Thank you.
KELLY: And the Associated Press now reports that Israel has indeed gone ahead with the release of the Palestinian prisoners. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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