Salem Radio Network News Sunday, March 3, 2024


Live updates | Hamas and Israel free more hostages and prisoners as deadline to extend truce nears

Ten Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals held captive in Gaza were freed by Hamas, and Israel followed with the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners Thursday. It was the latest exchange of hostages for prisoners under a temporary cease-fire in the Gaza war. Two Russian-Israeli women were also freed by Hamas in a separate release.

International mediators are working to extend a cease-fire that’s just a few hours from expiring. Israel has agreed to extend the truce by one day for every 10 militant-held hostages who are freed. The cease-fire, which was originally set to expire on Monday, has paused the deadliest fighting between Israel and Palestinians in decades.

Israel has vowed to resume the war in an effort to end Hamas’ 16-year rule of Gaza, but it’s facing mounting international pressure to extend the truce and spare southern Gaza a devastating ground offensive like the one that has demolished much of the north.

Roughly 240 hostages were captured by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that ignited the war. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants. About 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, mostly during the initial incursion by Hamas.


— Mediators seek to extend the truce as Hamas’ rule shows resilience.

— Israel compares Hamas to the Islamic State group. But the comparison misses the mark in key ways.

— Blinken urges cease-fire extension, discussions about Gaza’s future.

Freed Israeli hostage describes deteriorating conditions while being held by Hamas.

— Find more of AP’s coverage at

Here’s what’s happening in the war:

Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners early Thursday in exchange for 16 hostages freed hours earlier by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza.

A bus carrying some of the Palestinian detainees arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah before dawn. The releases came on the sixth day of a temporary truce in the Israel-Hamas war.

Most prominent among those freed was 22-year-old Ahed Tamimi, an activist who gained worldwide fame in 2017 after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral on social media.

Israeli troops arrested her at her West Bank home on Nov. 6 for “inciting to terrorism” on her Instagram account. Her mother said Tamimi’s account had been hacked.

WASHINGTON — United States President Joe Biden confirmed Wednesday that a second Israeli American hostage has been released by Hamas from Gaza.

Biden told reporters that Liat Beinin Atzili, 49, was among the latest group of Hamas-held hostages to be released from Gaza and taken to Israel. Speaking in Pueblo, Colorado, Biden added that he’d a chance to speak with Atzili’s parents.

“They’re very appreciative and things are moving well,” Biden said of his conversation with Atzili’s family. “She’ll soon be home with her three children.”

Four-year-old Abigail Edan, an Israeli American dual citizen, was the first U.S. hostage to be released under the cease-fire. Both of her parents were killed in the Hamas attack that started the war on Oct. 7.

White House officials believe seven or eight Americans remain in captivity.

Twenty-one aid trucks were able to reach northern Gaza, which has been the focus of Israel’s ground offensive, on Wednesday, the Palestinian Red Crescent relief group said.

During the six-day pause in fighting, the aid group said 254 aid trucks’ worth of food had been successfully distributed, including food, water, baby formula and blankets. The post on X, formerly Twitter, showed video of trucks hauling pallets of supplies and a forklift unloading boxes.

In the north, civilians have described entire residential blocks leveled to the ground in Gaza City and surrounding areas.

Two Russian-Israeli women who were held captive by Hamas have been freed and are back in Israel, the military said.

Hamas published video footage Wednesday of the women being handed over to two Red Cross workers in southern Gaza.

In the video, the mother and daughters are escorted to the doors of the Red Cross jeep by at least four gun-bearing al-Qassem Brigade fighters as dozens of Palestinian boys and men watch, many filming the event on their phones

The mother briefly stumbled after exiting the vehicle before being righted by the militant at her side.

KFAR AZZA, Israel — Religious leaders donned bullet-proof vests and helmets Wednesday as they gathered in the Israeli kibbutz of Kfar Azza to pray for peace.

Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze clerics stood in a semicircle to read out a joint statement calling for peace and sang prayers surrounded by the destruction unleashed by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 when they launched a cross-border attack on Israel.

“We all prayed for peace. We all prayed for the return of the captives,” said Rabbi Eliezer Weiss, member of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

Kfar Azza — one of more than 20 towns and villages attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7 — was one of the most hard-hit. The kibbutz still bears the marks of the violence: charred houses, shrapnel holes and bullet casings.

The interfaith gathering was organized by Israel’s Interior Ministry to show solidarity among the different denominations in the country.

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in a ceremony to break ground for a new town near Israel’s border with Gaza that will be named after a local leader killed in the Oct. 7 attack.

The town will be called Ofir after Ofir Libstein, former head of the Sha’ar HaNegev Council, who was killed by Hamas militants along with his 19-year-old son Nitzan.

They were both killed in the battle for Kfar Azza, a kibbutz about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the border with Gaza, which was extensively damaged and saw dozens killed in the Hamas attack. Kfar Azza was one of several Israeli communities near Gaza that suffered heavy damage on Oct. 7.

Since then, the surviving residents of Kfar Azza and surrounding towns in Israel been evacuated to hotels across the country. The future of their communities remains in limbo.

In the Wednesday ceremony, Netanyahu vowed to rebuild the destroyed towns alongside new ones.

The Israeli government decided in February — long before the war – on constructing a new Israeli community near Gaza. But Wednesday, its name was formally changed to Ofir.

The Israeli military says Hamas has begun releasing 12 hostages from captivity in the Gaza Strip.

The army said the first two hostages were transferred to Egypt late Wednesday. Ten others were expected to soon be freed.

It was the sixth release of Israeli hostages under a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel was to free some 30 Palestinian prisoners later Wednesday.

The cease-fire is set to expire early Thursday. International mediators were working to extend the truce by several days to allow further releases of hostages.

Hamas captured some 240 hostages in the Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. After the latest releases, roughly 150 hostages are believed to remain in captivity.

JERUSALEM — Two Palestinian boys, including an 8-year-old, were killed by Israeli fire Wednesday during a military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said. Two militants were also killed, the Israeli army said.

The circumstances of the boys’ shooting were unclear. Security camera footage showed what appear to be children gathered on a street. The children run away, while one boy remains standing until he falls to the ground and another appears to disappear next to a car. Health officials identified the boys as Adam Samer al-Ghoul, 8, and Basil Suleiman Abu al-Wafa, 15.

The video could not be independently verified. In a statement, the army said troops opened fire at suspects in the area who hurled explosives at them. “Hits were identified,” it said. The children in the video are not seen throwing objects, and the army did not say whether the young boys were suspected of throwing explosives.

Separately, the military said it had killed two wanted militants. They were identified as Mohammed Zubeidi, a senior Islamic Jihad operative, and Hussam Hanun, another Islamic Jihad operative. Zubeidi was wanted in two shootings in the West Bank last May, including an attack that killed an Israeli settler.

Violence in the West Bank has surged in the weeks since the Israel-Hamas war erupted, making this year the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since the U.N. humanitarian agency began taking count in 2005. Israeli fire has killed more than 230 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between Oct. 7 and Nov. 28, according to the United Nations. Of those killed, 63 were children, including the two boys in Jenin on Wednesday.

Since the beginning of the war, Israeli forces have also arrested over 2,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, of which they say 1,100 are affiliated with Hamas.

UNITED NATIONS — China has presented the United Nations Security Council with a four-point plan for Middle East peace in a demonstration of its ambitions to be a global superpower.

The war shows the need for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the council.

The lack of a Palestinian state is “the crux of the repeated turbulence in the Palestinian-Israeli situation,” he said.

“Israel has long established an independent state and the Jews are no longer without a home,” he said. “But the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, their right to existence and their right of return, has long been ignored.”

On two of the other three points, Wang told the council that the world should “work for a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire with the greatest urgency,” and better protect civilians.

His fourth point was that the the Security Council should “shoulder its responsibility on major issues of war and peace and life and death … in light of the development on the ground, take further action promptly.” Yi did not specify what action the council should take.

GENEVA — The World Health Organization said fewer than half of Gaza’s hospitals are now functional, as experts have recorded a “deeply alarming” surge in respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, meningitis and other illnesses in recent days.

At a press briefing Wednesday, WHO’s representative for the occupied Palestinian territories, Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, said the agency was bracing for numerous outbreaks, saying it had recorded about 111,000 cases of respiratory illness, and tens of thousands of cases of diarrhea, skin rash, jaundice and chickenpox in the last two weeks.

“Not only has Gaza lost its hospital capacity, it has lost its ability to confirm even the most basic of diseases,” he said, noting that before the war, samples would have been sent to the West Bank or to labs in Israel. Without that capability, he said there is now “a blind spot where we have a huge risk of epidemic diseases.” He said about 50 patients have now been transferred to other medical facilities outside of Gaza. Before the current war, Peeperkorn said Gaza had about 3,500 hospital beds; it now has about 1,500.

WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said that Egypt has made about 11,000 beds available for patients in Gaza who require medical evacuation and said that tens of thousands of doctors and nurses would be available to help. He said there were currently about 2 million displaced people in Gaza and said that prior to the war, the region had among the world’s highest rates of vaccination against childhood diseases.

But he cautioned that without knowing what might happen next in the conflict, it was unclear how long it might take to rebuild the region’s health systems.

BRUSSELS — United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration would like to see a new extension of a cease-fire agreement in Israel’s war with Hamas after the current one expires to secure the release of more hostages held by Hamas and to ramp up humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.

As he prepared to make his third visit to the Middle East since the war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, Blinken said Wednesday that in addition to discussing short-term logistical and operational planning, the administration believes it is imperative to discuss ideas about the future governance of Gaza if and when Israel achieves its stated goal of eradicating Hamas. Israel and Arab nations have resisted discussions of such planning, with Israeli officials concentrating on the prosecution of the war and Arab leaders insisting the immediate priority must be ending the fighting that has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians.

“Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll be focused on doing what we can to extend the pause so we can continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Brussels, where he was attending a NATO foreign ministers meeting. “And we’ll discuss with Israel how it can achieve its objective of ensuring that the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 never happen again, while sustaining and increasing humanitarian assistance and minimizing further suffering of Palestinian civilians.”

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for an international conference to resolve the Mideast conflict.

He said Wednesday that the Palestinians are ready to work with the international community on a “serious political process” that leads to an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war.

He also again called for a halt to the war in Gaza.

Abbas’ Palestinian Authority administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hamas drove his forces out of Gaza when it seized power there in 2007. Abbas is extremely unpopular among Palestinians, many of whom view the Palestinian Authority as an accomplice to the Israeli occupation because it coordinates with Israel on security matters.

The U.S. has said a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority should govern Gaza and the West Bank as part of an eventual two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected that idea, and his government is strongly opposed to Palestinian statehood.

The last serious Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down more than a decade ago.

TEL AVIV — There are approximately 161 hostages still in captivity in Gaza, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said Wednesday. That includes 146 Israelis and 15 foreigners, of whom 126 are men and 35 are women. There are still four children under the age of 18, and 10 people aged 75 and older. It is unclear how many of the hostages are soldiers, he said.

“We want to get all of the hostages home, we’re committed to that pledge, there will be no one left behind,” Levy said at a news conference.

“The current framework allows for a few more days of hostage relief pause, and as long as there is a serious offer on the table to release the remaining hostages as we are demanding, we will of course consider every serious proposal because we’re committed to doing everything to bring them back,” he said.

CAIRO — The head of the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that more people in the Gaza Strip could die from disease than from bombing.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said there is a heightened risk of disease outbreaks because of overcrowded shelters and a lack of food, water, sanitation and medication.

He said 111,000 people are suffering from respiratory infections and 75,000 others from diarrhea, more than half of them under age 5.

“Given the living conditions and lack of health care, more people could die from disease than bombings,” he said, calling for a sustained cease-fire. “It’s a matter of life or death for civilians.”

The war, which was trigged by an attack by Hamas on southern Israel on Oct. 7, has displaced up to 1.8 million people, or about 80% of Gaza’s population, according to U.N. figures.

CAIRO — Palestinians in Gaza fear a resumption of the Israel-Hamas war, which has brought unprecedented levels of death, destruction and displacement in the impoverished coastal strip.

“We are fed up,” said Omar al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah. “We want this war to stop.”

Ihab Abu Auf, a father of three staying with another family in southern Gaza, said he tried twice to return to his home in the north but was turned back by Israeli troops.

The two men spoke Wednesday as international mediators worked to extend the cease-fire that has paused the fighting for nearly a week. Both said it would be catastrophic if Israel resumes its offensive and sends troops south, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge.

“Where will we go then with our women and children?” Abu Auf said. “They want another Nakba,” or catastrophe, he said, referring to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.

Egypt has refused to accept Palestinian refugees and Israel has sealed its border since start of the war, which was triggered by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 cross-border attack.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of committing “one of the worst atrocities” of the century and said he would go down in history as the “butcher of Gaza.”

Erdogan, an outspoken critic of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, also said his government would ensure that Israel is held accountable for its actions before international courts.

In his bi-weekly address to governing party legislators, Erdogan maintained that Israel’s actions were fueling antisemitism while Western leaders were stoking hatred toward Islam.

“With the murders he committed in Gaza, Netanyahu is firing up antisemitism and endangering the security of the people of Israel and of all Jewish people,” Erdogan said. “Immigrants living in (Western) countries are paying the price for the irresponsible rhetoric of Western leaders that demonize Palestinians.”

TEL AVIV — Four-year-old Abigail Edan was discharged from the hospital late Tuesday night, following her release after more than 50 days as a hostage in Gaza, a spokesperson for Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikvah said.

The Israeli-American dual citizen was the first U.S. hostage to be released under the cease-fire. Abigail marked her fourth birthday in captivity.

Both of her parents were killed in the Hamas attack that started the war on Oct. 7. During the rampage, she ran to a neighbor’s home for shelter, and the Brodutch family took her in before militants took the family to Gaza.

Hagar Brodutch and her three children were also released on Sunday. President Joe Biden celebrated her release, telling reporters, “I wish I were there to hold her.”

MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino-Israeli woman arrived in Israel after being released by Hamas on Tuesday night as part of a group of 12 hostages, the Philippine president announced on social media early Wednesday.

Noralin Babadilla was the second of two Filipinos released from captivity in Gaza during the truce in the Israel-Hamas war. With her release, “all Filipinos affected by the war have been accounted for,” President Ferdinand Marcos said.

Babadilla, who lived in Israel and worked as a caregiver, was visiting friends in Kibbutz Nirim with her husband during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the Israeli Embassy in Manila said in a statement. Her husband, Gideon Babani, was killed during the attack and Babadilla was taken hostage.

Marcos thanked Israel for facilitating Babadilla’s release and thanked Egypt and Qatar, which helped mediate the cease-fire, “for their crucial role in this process over the past several weeks.”

WASHINGTON — The Group of Seven foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States as well as the high representative of the European Union are calling for the unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and the facilitated departure of foreign nationals from Gaza, according to a statement released by the U.S. State Department.

The G7 also said it supports the further extension of the current pause in fighting.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to work with all partners in the region to prevent the conflict from escalating further,” the statement said.

WASHINGTON — White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that the United States has airlifted over 54,000 pounds of Gaza-bound medical items and food aid to a staging area in Egypt.

Two more airlifts are planned in the coming days, Sullivan said. Since Oct. 21, more than 2,000 trucks have delivered aid to Gaza, he said.


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