US President Joe Biden said he hoped the temporary Israel-Hamas truce can go on as long as hostages are being released, after the Palestinian group freed 17 more people, including a 4-year-old Israeli-American girl.
Hamas said it wanted to extend the pause in fighting, which will enter its fourth day and final agreed day on Monday, if serious efforts were made to increase the number of Palestinian detainees released by Israel. Thirty-nine teenage Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel on Sunday, taking the total since the truce began to 117.
Hamas said it had handed over 13 Israelis, three Thais and one with Russian citizenship, and the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it had successfully transferred them from Gaza on Sunday.
Biden said the 4-year-old hostage, Abigail Edan, had witnessed her parents being killed by Hamas fighters during their Oct. 7 rampage into Israel and had been held since then.
“What she endured is unthinkable,” Biden said at a news conference in the US.
Abigail was on her way to the hospital for checks, Israel’s Channel 13 said. Her grandfather, Carmel Edan, told Reuters he “simply could not believe” she had been returned, thanking Biden “for all the help he’s offered us.”
The four-day Israel-Hamas truce agreed last week is the first halt in fighting in the seven weeks since Hamas killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages back into Gaza.
In response to that attack, Israel has bombarded the enclave and mounted a ground offensive in the north. Some 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza health authorities say, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he spoke to Biden about the hostage release, adding he would welcome extending the temporary truce if it meant that on every additional day 10 captives would be freed.
However, Netanyahu said he also told Joe Biden that, at the end of the truce, “we will return with full force to achieve our goals: The elimination of Hamas, ensuring that Gaza does not return to what it was; and of course the release of all our hostages.”
Palestinians gave the freed prisoners a jubilant reception in Ramallah, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Omar Abdullah Al Hajj, 17, one of the detainees released Sunday, said he’d been kept in the dark about what was happening in the outside world.
“I can’t believe I’m free now but my joy is incomplete because we still have our brothers who remain in prison, and then there is all the news about Gaza that I am having to learn about now,” he told Reuters.