Sixteen more hostages freed from Gaza as part of Israeli-Hamas truce

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Mohammed Salem and Emily Rose

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Sixteen people who were being held hostage in Gaza were handed over to Israeli officials on Wednesday, the second and last day of an extended truce in the Gaza war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Red Cross and other authorities said.

In a repeat of scenes over the past six days during a humanitarian pause in hostilities, the civilians were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and driven in vehicles to Israel.

Under the terms of the Qatari-mediated deal, 30 Palestinians -- 16 minors and 14 women -- will be released on Wednesday in exchange, Majed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Two Russian citizens and four Thai citizens were released outside the framework of the agreement while the 10 Israeli citizens freed included five dual citizens, Ansari said. They were a Dutch dual citizen, who is also a minor, three German dual citizens and one U.S. dual citizen, he said.

The hostages freed were among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed. Israel's bombardment of Gaza in retaliation has killed more than 15,000 Gazans, according to health authorities in the Palestinian enclave.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier identified two Russian-Israeli women freed on Wednesday night as Yelena Trupanov, 50, and Irena Tati, 73. Video from Hamas' armed wing showed the women being handed over to the ICRC and driven out of the Gaza Strip.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv, his third trip to the region since the Oct. 7 attack and was set to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss extending the temporary truce and boosting humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinian officials told Reuters that talks were continuing over a possible extension of the truce, which is scheduled to expire early on Thursday, but no agreement had yet been reached.

Israel's Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu would convene a security meeting on Wednesday night.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Lebanon, was cited by Hamas-affiliated media as saying attempts to extend the truce "have not yet matured, and what we've been presented with so far is not worth studying."

An Israeli official said earlier it would be impossible to extend the ceasefire without a commitment to release all women and children among the hostages. The official said Israel believed that militants were still holding enough women and children to prolong the truce by two to three days.

A Palestinian official said negotiators were hammering out whether Israeli men would be released on different terms than the exchange of three Palestinian detainees for each Israeli hostage that has applied to the women and children.

"Qatar remains hopeful that the progress made in recent days can be sustained, and a further extension to the humanitarian pause agreement can be reached," foreign ministry spokesperson Ansari said in his statement.


Meanwhile, in a clash in the West Bank city of Jenin between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, two young males and two militants were killed, Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported.

An 8-year-old boy, a 15-year-old male and two senior militant commanders died, the report said. The Israeli military said people threw explosive devices at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire.

The handover of hostages was overshadowed by an unconfirmed claim by Hamas, the largest militant group in Gaza, that a family of Israeli hostages including the youngest hostage, baby Kfir Bibas, had been killed during earlier Israeli bombardment.

Israeli officials said they were checking the Hamas report about the Bibas family, a very emotive issue in Israel where the family - 10-month-old Kfir, his 4-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri - is among the most high-profile hostages.

Relatives of the Bibas family said they had been informed of the Hamas report. "We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials," a statement from the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said.

So far Gaza militants have freed more than 70 Israeli women and children under the deal that secured the war's first truce. Other foreigners, mainly Thai farm workers, were also freed under separate parallel deals. Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara cried when he met Thais released to Israel by Hamas after seven weeks of captivity and said he hoped for freedom soon for the remaining 13 Thai hostages.

Israel has released 180 Palestinian detainees, all women and teenagers.

The initial four-day truce was extended by 48 hours from Tuesday, and Israel says it would be willing to prolong it for as long as Hamas frees 10 hostages a day. But with fewer women and children held, that could mean agreeing to terms governing the release of at least some Israeli men for the first time.

The truce has brought the first respite in the bombardment of Gaza with much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million having been reduced to wasteland.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday the Gaza Strip was in the midst of an "epic humanitarian catastrophe" and urged the world not to look away.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Mohammed Salem and Roleen Tafakji in Gaza, Henriette Chacar and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Steve Holland on Air Force One, Katharine Jackson in Washington and Reuters bureauxWriting by Peter Graff, William Maclean and Grant McCoolEditing by Nick Macfie, Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)