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Israel-Gaza conflict: Three-year-old twins released by Hamas as ceasefire enters fifth day

Israel-Gaza conflict: Three-year-old twins released by Hamas as ceasefire enters fifth day

The Israeli military said Hamas has released 11 hostages who have received medical treatment in Israel before being reunited with their families.

Those returned to Israel are two mothers and nine children and they include French, German and Argentinian citizens, according to the Qatari Foreign Ministry.

All of the women and children freed on Monday are from Kibbutz Nir Oz, leader Osnat Peri has said. She told Israeli media that the release "brings a sigh of relief to our community".

“We remain deeply concerned about our loved ones that are still held hostage. We demand the return of all hostages, immediately, whatever it takes," she added.

Mother Sharon Aloni Cunio and her three-year-old twin daughters, Emma and Yuli, are among those released, according to the BBC.

Mr Aloni Cunio's sister Daniele Aloni and her daughter were also taken - they were released on Friday.

Others freed are said to include teenage brothers Or and Yagil Yaacov, aged 16 and 13, whose father is believed to still be in captivity with his partner.

Karina Engel-Bart, 52, and her daughters - 18-year-old Mika Engel and 11-year-old Yufal Engel - were returned on Monday while their father Ronen Engel, 55, remains in Gaza.

Hostages Sharon Aloni-Cunio, 34, and three-year-old twins Emma and Yuli (Reuters)
Hostages Sharon Aloni-Cunio, 34, and three-year-old twins Emma and Yuli (Reuters)

The group also includes siblings Erez and Sahar Kalderon, 12 and 16, and 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi.

Hamas previously said it had received a list of 33 people to be released by Israel in return, most of which are teenagers. Qatar, which has been mediating the hostage release talks, has confirmed this figure.

It comes after Israel and Hamas agreed to “extend the humanitarian pause” for two more days past Monday - the final day of the original four-day truce - according to the Qatari government.

Hamas has reportedly committed to releasing 20 women and children over the next two days, US national security spokesman John Kirby said.

Israel has previously said it would extend the pause by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. Hamas said Monday's two-day extension was made with "the same conditions as in the previous truce".

Hamas agreed to release 11 hostages on Monday (Reuters)
Hamas agreed to release 11 hostages on Monday (Reuters)

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari told the BBC they were “quite hopeful” the truce deal could be extended beyond a further two days.

“Now that we have the extension in place for two days we are optimistic we can work towards a more sustainable pause for both sides.”

British Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell received reports of the deal while answering questions in the House of Commons and having previously insisted that the pause in hostilities “should not be a one-off”.

Addressing the chamber, he said: “There is some suggestion that while I’ve been on my feet in the House, Qatar has announced a truce would be extended by two days.

“Obviously, we all hope that is true and that more hostages, as a result, will be able to leave.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had said the cessation of hostilities delivered “some relief after weeks of pain and suffering”, before insisting “more time is needed if we are to build on this progress”.

A Palestinian holds Hamas flags while waiting for the release of prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on November 27 (AFP via Getty Images)
A Palestinian holds Hamas flags while waiting for the release of prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on November 27 (AFP via Getty Images)

He said: “Monday's agreement to extend this cessation of hostilities shows further such extensions are possible.

“Therefore, I call on all parties to build on this progress and work urgently towards a further extension. This would allow the release of further hostages and deliver more humanitarian relief for those in desperate need. And an extension would undoubtedly ease tensions across the region.”

Speaking in the Commons, Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy accused the UK Government of not contacting family members of hostages for “more than a month”.

Ms Creasy said: “This weekend, the immigration minister for this Government, on a public platform, said this Government would not rest until each and every one of the hostages is returned back to the loving embrace of their families.

“It is now more than a month since anybody at all from the UK Government has had any contact at all with the UK citizens who have family members as hostages. Not a single phone call.”

Ms Creasy said she had pleaded with ministers to ensure the families could have “just five minutes” of Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron’s time to discuss their cases.

She added: “It’s been other governments who have helped identify that their family members are alive.”

Mr Mitchell, in his reply, said: “My understanding is not the same as hers in respect of the British hostages.

“She will know over 200 British nationals and their dependants have so far left Gaza and we’re working around the clock to get the rest of those who want to leave out.

“But in terms of the hostages, my understanding is not the same as she has said.”

The US announced on Monday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates this week to discuss sustaining aid flows to Gaza and freeing all hostages as well as US principles for the future of Gaza and the need for an independent Palestinian state.

With the truce deal has come increased shipments of fuel and supplies into Gaza — although aid groups say it is still not enough to dent the needs of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of Israeli siege.