Just hours before the end of a ceasefire with Israel, the Islamist Palestinian organization Hamas released 16 more hostages on Wednesday. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) confirmed via the online X service, formerly known as Twitter, that all three German hostages were released.
The Israel Prison Service later reported that 30 Palestinian prisoners were released, including well-known activist Ahed Tamimi. Meanwhile, mediators were trying to extend the ceasefire.
Ten Israeli hostages, including five women, three children and two 18-year-old men, returned to Israel on Thursday night, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. Additionally, according to mediator Qatar, four Thai hostages and two Russian-Israeli women were released outside the agreement between Hamas and Israel.
“Today, after weeks of captivity, 16 hostages were finally able to return to their families – also including 3 Germans,” Baerbock wrote to X. “We are not giving up our efforts to get all hostages to safety,” Baerbock wrote to X.
Shortly afterwards, the Israeli Prison Authority announced the release of 30 more Palestinian prisoners. Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had previously announced that 16 of them were children and 14 were women. One of those released is activist Tamimi. The 22-year-old was arrested over a post on the online service Instagram that called for the slaughter of Israelis and alluded to Hitler, according to Israeli sources. Tamimi’s family denies this.
So far, a total of 70 Israeli women and children, as well as about 30 foreign hostages, mostly Thai guest workers, have been released by Hamas. In response, Israel has so far released 210 Palestinian prisoners from its prisons.
Meanwhile, efforts to further extend the ceasefire have increased. According to media reports, Israel’s war cabinet met late Wednesday evening to discuss the extension.
AFP news agency first learned from Hamas circles that the Palestinian organization was preparing to extend the ceasefire for another four days. However, a Hamas source later stated that he was unhappy with the earlier extension offers.
On Wednesday evening, a Hamas representative said the offers presented were “not optimal.” It was stated that “Israeli aggression” and the “blockade” on the Gaza Strip must end before “any discussion” regarding the exchange of captured soldiers and officers.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening. Blinken had stated that the United States wanted to “focus on extending the pause as long as possible so that we can release more hostages and provide more humanitarian aid.” This is Blinken’s third visit to the Middle East since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.
Meanwhile, during his visit to Doha on Wednesday, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani for his “successful efforts” in negotiations for the release of the hostages. Steinmeier said Qatar was “using its influence in the region and also on Hamas.” He pointed out that the goal of the Qatari leadership is “to ensure the extension of the ceasefire.”
G7 countries also called for a further extension of the ceasefire. “We support a further extension of this pause and future pauses as necessary to increase aid and ensure the release of all hostages,” the statement said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his statement in New York, stated that the people of the Gaza Strip are facing “an epic humanitarian disaster before the eyes of the world” and called for a “real humanitarian ceasefire”. China called for an immediate “sustained humanitarian ceasefire” in a position paper published on Thursday.
Hamas kidnapped approximately 240 people in its brutal attack on October 7. Hundreds of fighters from militias classified as terrorist organizations by the US and EU entered Israel and killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures.
In response, Israel massively bombed targets in the Gaza Strip from the air and on the ground for weeks. Approximately 15,000 people have been killed in Palestinian territory since then, according to Hamas figures that cannot be independently verified.