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Israel, Hamas Agree to Temporary Ceasefire, 50 Hostages to Go Free in Swap

Protesters hold signs demanding the liberation of hostages who are being held in the Gaza Strip after they were seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israel and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to a ceasefire in Gaza for at least four days, to let in aid and release at least 50 hostages captured by terrorists in exchange for at least 150 Palestinians jailed in Israel.

The first truce in a near seven-week-old war, reached after mediation by Qatar, was hailed around the world as a sign of progress that could ease the suffering of Gaza’s civilians and bring more Israeli hostages home. Israel said the ceasefire could be extended further, as long as more hostages were freed.

Hamas and allied terrorist groups captured around 240 hostages when gunmen rampaged through southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7. Previously, Hamas had released just four.

The official start time for the truce is expected to be announced within 24 hours, with the first hostages to go free on Thursday.

A statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said 50 women and children would be released over four days at a rate of at least 10 per day. Beyond that, the truce could be extended as long as an additional ten hostages were freed per day.

It made no mention of the release of Palestinian detainees, but Israel‘s justice ministry published a list of 300 names of Palestinian prisoners who could be freed.

Israel‘s government is committed to return all the hostages home. Tonight, it approved the proposed deal as a first stage to achieving this goal,” said the government statement.

Hamas said the initial 50 hostages would be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Hundreds of trucks of humanitarian, medical, and fuel supplies would enter Gaza, while Israel would halt all air sorties over southern Gaza and maintain a daily six-hour daytime no-fly window in the north, it said.

Israel has waged a military campaign of air strikes and ground operations in Gaza targeting Hamas, the terror group that rules the Palestinian enclave. The campaign began after terrorists from Gaza led by Hamas invaded the Jewish state on Oct. 7 and, during their onslaught across southern Israel, killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli tallies.

Thousands of Gazans have been killed during Israel’s military response to incapacitate Hamas, according to figures from Hamas-controlled health authorities in Gaza.

Qatar’s chief negotiator in ceasefire talks, Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, told Reuters the truce meant there would be “no attack whatsoever. No military movements, no expansion, nothing.”

Qatar hopes the deal “will be a seed to a bigger agreement and a permanent cease of fire. And that’s our intention,” he said.

Pending the start of the truce there was no let-up in fighting. As morning broke, smoke from explosions could be seen rising above northern Gaza in live Reuters video from across the fence.

Israel‘s military released footage of soldiers shooting in narrow alleyways and said it had carried out air strikes. Its “forces continue to operate within the [Gaza] Strip’s territory to destroy terrorist infrastructure, eliminate terrorists, and locate weaponry,” it said.

Both Israel and Hamas said that the truce would not halt their broader missions: “We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages, and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel,” Netanyahu said in a recorded message.

Hamas said in its statement: “As we announce the striking of a truce agreement, we affirm that our fingers remain on the trigger, and our victorious fighters will remain on the look-out to defend our people and defeat the occupation.”

US President Joe Biden was among international leaders who welcomed the deal. Three Americans, including a 3-year-old girl whose parents were killed during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, are expected to be among the hostages to be released, a senior US official said.

More than half the hostages hold foreign and dual citizenship from some 40 countries, Israel has said.

Implementing the deal must wait for 24 hours to give Israeli citizens the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the release of Palestinian prisoners, Israeli media reported.

Qadura Fares, head of the Commission for Prisoners’ Affairs in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, told Reuters that among more than 7,800 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel were about 85 women and 350 minors.

The terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which participated in the Oct. 7 massacre with Hamas and also operates out of Gaza, said late on Tuesday that one of the Israeli hostages it has held since the raid had died.

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Pope Condemns Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism Amid New Wave of Attacks Against Jews

Pope Francis waves after delivering his traditional Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi speech to the city and the world from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Pope Francis condemned all forms of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, labeling them as a “sin against God,” after noticing an increase in attacks against Jews around the world.

“(The Church) rejects every form of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred towards Jews and Judaism as a sin against God,” the pontiff wrote in a letter to the Jewish population of Israel dated Feb. 2 and made public on Saturday.

“Together with you, we, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world. We had hoped that ‘never again’ would be a refrain heard by the new generations,” he added.

The Pope noted that wars and divisions are increasing all over the world “in a sort of piecemeal world war,” hitting the lives of many populations.

Francis, 87, has condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack from Gaza into southern Israel. He has also said on several occasions that a two-state solution was needed to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his letter, the pope also called, once again, for the release of those hostages still being held by militants.

He said his heart was torn at the sight of the conflict in the Holy Land and the division and hatred stemming from it, adding that the world was looking at the unfolding of events in the area with “apprehension and pain.”

He assured the Jewish community of his closeness and affection, “particularly (those) consumed by anguish, pain, fear and even anger,” repeating his call for the end of the war.

Francis said he prayed for peace. “My heart is close to you, to the Holy Land, to all the peoples who inhabit it, Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray that the desire for peace may prevail in all.”

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Israel Says It Has Struck More than 50 Hezbollah Targets in Syria Since Oct 7

Israeli soldiers take part in training session near the Israel border with Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, February 1, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Gil Eliyahu/File Photo

The Israeli military said on Saturday that since the outbreak of the Gaza war on Oct. 7 it had struck more than 50 targets in Syria linked to the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The remarks, in a briefing by chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari that mainly discussed efforts to beat back Hezbollah attacks launched in solidarity with Hamas, were a departure from Israel’s usual reticence about Syria operations.

“Everywhere Hezbollah is, we shall be. We will take action everywhere required in the Middle East,” Hagari said.

Israeli forces have attacked 34,000 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, including 120 border surveillance outposts, 40 caches of missiles and other weaponry and more than 40 command centers, Hagari said. He put the number of enemy dead at more than 200.

Hagari said Israel had deployed three army divisions along its side of the Lebanese border in anticipation of Hezbollah getting involved after Palestinian Hamas launched a shock cross-border attack on Oct. 7, triggering the war in the Gaza Strip.

With tens of thousands of its northern residents having evacuated, Israel has threatened to escalate the Lebanon fighting unless Hezbollah backs off from the border – and has sought Western help in finding a diplomatic solution in Beirut.

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American Bases Attacked Within Hours of Retaliatory Strikes in Iraq

US White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby holds a news briefing at the White House in Washington, US, Aug. 4, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Jim Bourg

i24 NewsAmerican bases once again came under attack by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and missiles, according to Shahab news agency, just a few hours after extensive retaliatory strikes by the United States against Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq.

Following the death of three American soldiers by a drone strike in Jordan, the U.S. carried out strikes against 85 targets located at seven locations in the region, as well as imposing fresh sanctions and reportedly a cyber attack on Iranian targets.

American officials told The New York Times that the U.S. conducted covert cyber-operations against Iranian targets, but declined to provide further details. Though there were overt sanctions on officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) cyber division, including the department’s commander Hamid Reza Lashgarian, as well as on companies reportedly supplying the offensive programs.

Furthermore, the Saudi AlHadath channel reported that a senior commander of the Iranian-backed militias was killed in one of the U.S. strikes in Iraq. While other reports indicate that the attacks will result in “significant damage” to the capabilities of the targeted groups, with initial estimates of six dead and 11 wounded.

U.S. President Joe Biden described the operation as striking “targets at facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC and affiliated militia use to attack U.S. forces. Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

“The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond,” Biden concluded.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups continue to represent a direct threat to the stability of Iraq, the region, and the safety of Americans. We will continue to take action, do whatever is necessary to protect our people, and…

— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) February 3, 2024

General Michael E. Kurilla, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander, posted on X a video of a B-1 bomber taking off, and wrote “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups continue to represent a direct threat to the stability of Iraq, the region, and the safety of Americans. We will continue to take action, do whatever is necessary to protect our people, and hold those responsible who threaten their safety.”

According to reports, some of the arsenal used were long-range bombers like the B-1 that flew from the continental United States to carry out the attacks. National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, said “there will be additional response action taken in coming days”.

In addition, some reports indicate the Jordanian Air Force participated in the strikes.

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