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Hamas frees two more hostages

Two elderly Israeli women have been released, reportedly amid a US push to delay West Jerusalem’s ground offensive in Gaza

Two elderly Israeli women have been released by Hamas more than two weeks after they and their husbands were kidnapped during the Islamist group’s deadly attacks in southern Israel.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it facilitated the release of the two women and transported them out of the Gaza Strip on Monday evening. “Our role as a neutral intermediary makes this work possible, and we are ready to facilitate any future release,” the charity said.

The women were identified as 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz and 79-year-old Nurit Cooper. Footage broadcast on Egyptian TV showed them being taken out of Gaza on stretchers, at the Rafah crossing into Egypt, and placed in ambulances. Their husbands were not released and were reportedly still among the more than 200 hostages being held in Gaza.

Hamas freed the two women for “compelling humanitarian reasons,” the group’s military wing said in a statement on Telegram. Two American women with dual US-Israeli citizenship – a mother and daughter from suburban Chicago – were released on Friday.

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Israel issues ultimatum on Gaza

The latest release comes amid media reports that President Joe Biden’s administration is urging Israeli officials to delay a major ground offensive against Hamas to provide more time to negotiate the release of additional hostages. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “demolish” Hamas in retaliation for its October 7 attacks, which left about 1,400 people dead. More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since the war began.

Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri said on the day of the attacks that the group would use the hostages to negotiate the release of all Palestinians held in Israeli jails. “As to our prisoners, I say, your freedom is looming large,” he told Al Jazeera. “What we have in hand will see you set free. The longer fighting continues, the higher the number of prisoners will become.”

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman issued an ultimatum on Monday, saying the ground offensive will be canceled if Hamas surrenders “unconditionally” and frees all of the hostages.

 

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