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Hamas, Israel release more hostages in fifth day of Gaza truce

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A bus carrying 30 Palestinian prisoners departed on Tuesday evening from the Israeli Ofer prison, which is located near the West Bank city of Ramallah, said a Xinhua reporter on-site.

The Israel Prison Service confirmed that 30 Palestinians, including 15 women and 15 minors, were released from Israeli jails in the fifth swap under a truce deal between Israel and Hamas.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, handed over the fifth batch of hostages to the International Red Cross. The Israeli government also confirmed on Tuesday that the fifth batch of hostages released from the Gaza Strip by Hamas has returned to Israel.

The 12 hostages, including 10 Israelis and two Thai nationals, will undergo an initial medical examination before being escorted by security forces to the hospital to be reunited with their families, according to the statements issued by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and Israel Defense Forces.

The humanitarian four-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, supposed to expire on Tuesday morning, was extended for an additional two days, the Qatari Foreign Ministry announced on Monday.

Israel did not comment on the extension, but announced early Tuesday morning that it approved to release 50 more female Palestinian prisoners if “more Israeli hostages are released.”

Respite in Gaza

The total Palestinian death toll since the deadly assault on Gaza launched by Israel in retaliation for the October 7 surprise Hamas attack, has surpassed 15,000, including more than 6,150 children and over 4,000 women. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack, while more than 200 people were taken as hostages.

The calm from the truce allowed glimpses of the destruction wreaked by weeks of Israeli bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods.

At least 160 bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes were retrieved by rescue teams in the Gaza Strip within the past 24 hours, the Hamas-run media office said on Tuesday.

It said that the bodies were recovered from various locations in the Palestinian coastal enclave ruled by Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, using manual and rudimentary tools.

More than 6,500 people are still missing, including over 4,700 children and women, according to the office.

At least 1.7 million people have been displaced in the Gaza Strip and are facing the danger of significant spread of infectious diseases, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned in a recent statement.

Nearly 80 percent of Gaza’s population has become internally displaced, with approximately 896,000 displaced persons residing in 99 facilities in the central and southern parts of the region, the OCHA said.

Before the war resumes

Israel has vowed to resume the war with “full force” to destroy Hamas once it’s clear that no more hostages will be freed under the deal. The truce is due to end after one more exchange Wednesday night.

At the UN Security Council, China has acted in its capacity as president to facilitate the adoption of the resolution, which calls for extended humanitarian pauses and corridors, the protection of civilians, and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

On November 15, the UN Security Council under China’s presidency adopted Resolution 2712, calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip “for a sufficient number of days.”

Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the BRICS extraordinary virtual summit on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, saying that the parties to the conflict must end hostilities and achieve a ceasefire immediately.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will go to New York to preside over a high-level UN Security Council meeting on the Palestinian-Israeli issue on Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

As the rotating president of the UN Security Council for November, China hopes that by holding the meeting, all parties can have in-depth exchanges, build consensus and take concrete actions to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, realize a truce, protect civilians, and ultimately promote a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Palestinian question through the two-state solution, said ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has told Israel that it must work to avoid “significant further displacement” of Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza if it renews its ground campaign aimed at eradicating the Hamas militant group, according to AP citing senior U.S. officials.

Source(s): CGTN

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Iraqi Shiite militia says calm with U.S. forces ‘temporary tactic’

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The leader of an Iraqi Shiite militia said Sunday that the current period of calm among Iraqi armed groups in their conflict with the U.S. forces is a “temporary tactic” and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has not abandoned its support for the Palestinians.

Akram al-Kaabi, secretary general of the Iranian-backed al-Nujaba Movement, said in a statement that the current calm is only a tactic for repositioning and deployment. “It is only the calm before the storm.”

He said that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq “is an essential part in the battle to confront the Zionist aggression (the Israeli military campaign) and its supporter America against the Gaza Strip.”

Al-Kaabi also said that there is high-level coordination between different “open fronts” against the Americans and Israelis in the region, stressing that “any calm on one front and ignition on another is an intentional, purposeful and coordinated strategy.”

“Although the Islamic resistance did not reject the government’s negotiations to schedule the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, we affirm that the U.S. occupier is a liar, a deceiver and an arrogant one,” the statement said.

Days after fighting broke out between the Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip on October 7, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched rocket, drone and mortar attacks on military bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

On January 27, Iraq and the U.S. began the first round of dialogue to discuss ending the U.S.-led international coalition’s mission in Iraq, but later three U.S. soldiers were killed in an attack on a U.S. base near Jordan’s border with Syria. The U.S. said the attack was carried out by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella term for pro-Iran Shiite Islamic armed groups in Iraq.

The death of the U.S. soldiers prompted the U.S. forces to retaliate by striking some headquarters of Iranian-backed armed groups affiliated with the Iraqi paramilitary Hashd Shaabi forces, killing and wounding dozens of them.

Later, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq suspended their attacks on U.S. bases to pave the way for the Iraqi government to hold negotiations with the U.S.-led coalition to end their presence in Iraq.

Source(s): CGTN

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U.S., UK launch new wave of strikes against Yemen’s Houthis

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The U.S. and the UK carried out a fresh wave of strikes on Saturday against 18 Houthi targets in Yemen, according to a joint statement, following weeks of attacks on Red Sea shipping by the Iran-backed group.

The strikes “specifically targeted 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen associated with Houthi underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter,” said the joint statement.

It was co-signed by Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, who gave unspecified “support” to the new round of strikes, the second this month and fourth since the Houthis began their attacks on ships in the region.

“The Houthis’ now more than 45 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to the global economy, as well as regional security and stability and demand an international response,” the statement said.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah television reported “a series of raids on the capital Sanaa,” while AFP correspondents in the Houthi-controlled city in western Yemen said they heard several loud bangs.

“The United States will not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement after the strikes.

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage, and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries.”

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree was defiant, vowing in a social media statement that the group would “confront the American-British escalation with more qualitative military operations against all hostile targets in the Red and Arab Seas.”

The UK Ministry of Defense said four Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s targeted “several very long-range drones, used by the Houthis for both reconnaissance and attack missions,” on Saturday at a site north-east of Sanaa.

Saturday’s operation comes after several merchant vessels were struck this week in the region, including the fertilizer-filled Rubymar, whose crew had to abandon ship after it was hit Sunday and began taking on water.

Apart from the joint operations with Britain, the United States has also carried out unilateral strikes against Houthi positions and weaponry in Yemen and downed dozens of missiles and drones in the Red Sea.

Source(s): CGTN

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Gaza ceasefire talks underway in Paris as air strikes continue

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Gaza truce talks were underway in Paris on Friday, marking the most serious push in weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released.

Reuters reported that the talks had begun, with Israel’s head of the Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party – Qatar, Egypt and the United States, according to an anonymous source.

“There are budding signs of optimism about moving forward toward the start of serious negotiations,” the source was quoted as saying. Egypt’s Al Qahera TV News also reported that the talks had commenced.

An official from Hamas stated that the militant group had concluded ceasefire talks in Cairo and was now awaiting the outcome of the weekend talks with Israel mediated by others.

Mediators have intensified efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, aiming to prevent an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

Israel has threatened to attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. Washington has urged its close ally not to proceed, warning of vast civilian casualties if an assault on the city occurs.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met with Egyptian mediators in Cairo this past week to discuss a truce, marking his first visit since December.

Two Egyptian security sources confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel would head to Paris for talks with the Israelis after wrapping up discussions with Haniyeh on Thursday. Israel has not publicly commented on the Paris talks, which are expected to continue through the weekend.

Reuters reported that the militant group did not offer any new proposals at the talks with the Egyptians but was waiting to see what the mediators would bring back from their discussions with the Israelis, citing a Hamas official who requested anonymity.

Ceasefire outline emerged from earlier talks

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the start of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the conflict, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as “delusional.”

Hamas, believed to still be holding more than 100 hostages seized in the October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the conflict, insists on their release only as part of a truce that includes an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel, on the other hand, refuses to withdraw until Hamas is eradicated.

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented his security cabinet with an official plan for Gaza once the fighting stops. He emphasized that Israel expects to maintain security control over the enclave after destroying Hamas and also sees no role there for the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank.

Washington favors a role for a reformed PA.

Two Palestinian officials familiar with the negotiations stated that Hamas has not changed its stance in the latest push to reach a deal and still demands that a truce end with an Israeli pullout.

“Israel’s position and its response to mediation has been negative and this poses many obstacles towards reaching an agreement,” senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Friday during a press conference in Beirut.

“Netanyahu is procrastinating… He does not care about the release of his hostages, but rather uses this issue as a card to achieve his goals,” Hamdan said.

At least 29,514 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, the Gaza health ministry said on Friday.

Source(s): CGTN

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