Hamas made it difficult for foreigners to leave the Gaza Strip, writes CNN. An American official in an interview with television described how the terrorist organization first made their release conditional on the evacuation of some wounded Palestinians from Gaza, among whom it then hid its fighters. He added that “an intensive process is ongoing” to secure the release of more than 240 hostages held by Hamas.
Efforts to ensure the safe departure of foreigners from the Gaza Strip have been thwarted by Hamas and faced with a host of logistical challenges, further exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation, a US official tells CNN.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, did not allow anyone to leave the area, according to the official. This triggered a flurry of negotiations led by Ambassador David Satterfield, the special envoy USA for humanitarian issues in the Middle East.
As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens, Hamas said foreigners will be allowed to leave the Gaza Strip “provided that a certain number of injured Palestinians are allowed to leave, which of course is not objectionable,” the official said.
However, about a third of the Palestinians listed as wounded were marked as Hamas members in the vetting process, which was “simply unacceptable to Egypt, to us, to Israel,” the official said. After another round of negotiations, an agreement was reached guaranteeing that “the wounded Palestinian civilians leaving with the foreigners were not Hamas fighters, (but) truly individual civilians, victims in this terrible, horrific tragedy.”
A breakthrough was finally achieved on Tuesday, allowing foreign passport holders and a group of critically injured civilians to leave through the Rafah border crossing, with the first group left on Wednesday.
– So we had to work very carefully with the Egyptians and UNto activate the mechanisms, the official said, adding that the final details had been worked out in talks between the president Joe Biden and the president Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the weekend with the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.
The official told CNN that “an equally intense process is ongoing” to secure the safe release of more than 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
The successful release of two hostages last month, the official said, “was sort of a pilot to see if it was possible.” Negotiating the release of such a large number of hostages, the official added, would require “a fairly significant pause in hostilities.”
Hamas is holding at least 242 hostages
During the Hamas attack carried out in early October, 247 people were taken prisoner, of whom four have so far been released and one has been rescued. The people detained in the Gaza Strip include: at least 33 children, young female soldiers attacked shortly after entering compulsory military service, families and a retired Arabic language teacher.
Hostages held in hideouts scattered throughout the bombed Gaza Strip were kidnapped during the attack on October 7 – the bloodiest in Israel’s history. Terrorists from the Palestinian organization Hamas entered the country and attacked border military bases, cities, kibbutzim and an open-air music festival. They killed over 1,400 people.
The hostages include people from more than 40 countries and at least one Palestinian resident of Israel: a bus driver who spent the night near the Nova Music Festival event to which he was taking its participants.
During the attack, Hamas militants kidnapped 18-year-old Liri Elbag and 19-year-old Karina Ariev – young soldiers who began serving in the Israeli army shortly before the kidnapping – to the Gaza Strip. They were abducted from bases bordering the Palestinian enclave. Their families said they recognized their daughters in videos distributed by Hamas as they were stuffed into car trunks with other abductees.
A five-member family from Kibbutz Nir Oz is also in the hands of terrorists. “They kidnapped my father, sister, brother, grandmother and cousin,” Gaya Kalderon told Israeli media. Her brother was recognized in one of the Hamas videos. He celebrated his 12th birthday in their captivity.
26-year-old Noa Argamani and 30-year-old Avinatan Or were having fun together at the festival when terrorists flying on paragliders started shooting at the dancing participants. The couple was separated by force – as seen in videos posted on social media – and taken to various hideouts in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007.
Also in captivity of the terrorist organization is 75-year-old Ada Sagi, a retired Arabic teacher. Her son admitted in an interview with the media that during the attack she hid in a shelter, from where she was most likely kidnapped. It was from there that she spoke to her family for the last time. Her daughter said that all she knew about her mother’s fate was that “she was not on the list of those killed or injured.”
Hamas has so far released four hostages: American-Israeli mother and daughterand two elderly Israeli women. One of them, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, admitted that she “went through hell”. The Israeli military dropped leaflets in Gaza offering protection and financial compensation to Palestinians who would provide information about hostages held in the area.
The families of the kidnapped are appealing to the Israeli authorities
The families of the kidnapped people appealed to the Israeli authorities to take steps to help bring their loved ones back home. They emphasized that bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip also fall on hostages held there. A survey by the Maariv newspaper showed that at the beginning of October 65 percent Israelis supported a “large-scale ground operation”, while at the end of the month it was shown that 49 percent citizens favored “waiting”, which was attributed to a shift in priorities towards trying to free the hostages.
Hamas authorities have stated that they are willing to release prisoners in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of all Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/MOHAMMED SABER