Biden urges ceasefire extension as Netanyahu says only if hostages freed

Joe Biden
Joe Biden said he 'wants to keep this pause going' - Stephanie Scarbrough/AP
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Joe Biden on Sunday night urged Benjamin Netanyahu to extend Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas as 17 hostages including a “very sick” elderly woman and an orphaned four-year old were released.

The Israeli prime minister in turn said he was open to prolonging the truce if the terror group agrees to release more captives.

The US president said he wants to “keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza”.

“This deal is structured so that it can be extended to keep building on these results.

“That’s my goal, that’s our goal…We will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Netanyahu said he told the US President that he is open to extending Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas if the terror group agrees to release more hostages.

“For every day, another 10,” the Israeli prime minister said after a call between the two leaders on Sunday evening.

The original Qatari-brokered deal allows the ceasefire to be extended by one day for every 10 extra hostages that are released.

The White House said the two leaders agreed during the call to “continue working to secure the release of all hostages”.

But Qatar’s prime minister said efforts to extend the truce depend on Hamas locating dozens of women and children being held hostage in Gaza by civilians and gangs.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told the Financial Times that more than 40 women and children were being kept captive in Gaza who were not believed to be held by Hamas.

He said the ceasefire could run longer if Hamas was able to use the pause in the conflict to locate those hostages.

Hamas, meanwhile, said it was seeking to extend its four-day truce if Israel made “serious efforts” to increase the number of Palestinian detainees for release.

Israeli Defense Forces said that “if it is possible” to secure the release of more hostages “we will do so”. The Israeli government is under domestic pressure to release more hostages but military officials fear that a longer truce risks blunting its efforts to rout the Islamist movement.

Hostage in serious condition flown out

Among the 13 Israelis aged four to 84 handed over on Sunday by the Red Cross was a “very sick” elderly woman who had to be urgently flown to hospital by helicopter, according to Mr Biden. Israeli media reported that the hostage, thought to be 84-year-old Elma Avraham, was in a serious and life-threatening condition.

She was “in need of immediate medical help so they arranged to cross directly into Israel to be able to take her into hospital”, the US president said in a televised address.

Four other hostages – three Thai and one Russian – were returned to Israel via the Rafah crossing with Egypt,

The youngest of those freed was Abigail Mor Idan, a child with dual Israeli-American nationality who celebrated her fourth birthday on Friday in Hamas captivity after her parents were murdered in the Oct 7 attacks.

She was reportedly in her father Roy’s arms when he and her mother, Smadar Eden, were shot and killed in the massacre. Her siblings, aged six and 10, also witnessed their parents’ murder but escaped unharmed by hiding in a closet for 14 hours, relatives said.

Mr Biden said: “Thank God she’s home. I guess I can’t imagine the enjoyment. I just wish I were there to hold her.”

He added: “What she endured is unthinkable.”

In all, nine children aged 17 and younger were on the list.

Hamas has released 53 hostages so far out of the approximately 240 it is thought to have taken on Oct 7. In exchange, Israel has allowed aid shipments to enter Gaza and released 117 Palestinian prisoners, including 39 on Sunday night.

There were scenes of joy as a crowd surrounded a Red Cross bus carrying the freed prisoners in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

March against anti-Semitism

A fourth exchange is expected on Monday, the last day of the ceasefire, during which 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are to be freed. All are women and minors.

Thousands of demonstrators marched against anti-Semitism through central London on Sunday, including former prime minister Boris Johnson. On Saturday pro-Palestinian crowds took to the streets of the capital to demand a full ceasefire.

Separately, Hamas said it had released one of the Russian hostages it was holding. Roni Krivoi was freed “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and as a show of appreciation for Russia’s position on the war. In October, Putin warned Israel against blockading the Gaza Strip, likening it to Nazi Germany’s siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

Earlier on Sunday Mr Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip for the first time in seven weeks of war and told troops: “We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return every one.

“We are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.”

Brokered by Qatar and Egypt and the US, the ceasefire agreement has brought the first significant pause since Hamas and other militant groups seized around 240 people during the rampage across southern Israel that ignited the war.

It has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, according to Hamas-ruled Gaza’s health ministry.

In a separate development, Hamas announced that Ahmed al-Ghandour, one of its top commanders, had been killed. In charge of northern Gaza and a member of its top military council, Al-Ghandour is the highest-ranking militant known to have been killed in the fighting. Israel confirmed the claim.

Hamas said that he was killed along with three other senior militants, including Ayman Siam, who Israel says was in charge of Hamas’s rocket-firing unit.

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