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‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 50: First Hostages Released

Above photo: Palestinians return to the Khuza’a District on the Eastern outskirts of the Southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis to inspect their homes following weeks of Israeli bombardment. APA Images.

As Gaza Takes Stock Of Devastation.

Thirty-nine Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons on Friday, as aid trickles back into Gaza amid calls for a full-fledged ceasefire to address the full scope of humanitarian devastation. Spain, Belgium, and the UK have strong words for Israel.

Casualties

  • 14,854 killed*, including 6,150 children, and more than 36,000 wounded in the Gaza Strip
  • 226 Palestinians* killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,200

*This figure covers the casualties from October 7 to November 23. Due to breakdowns in communication networks within the Gaza Strip (particularly in northern Gaza), the Gaza Ministry of Health has not been able to regularly update its tolls. The Government Media Office in Gaza has since become the main source for tolls in the enclave. Tolls have also not been regularly updated in the occupied West Bank.

Key Developments

  • Thirty-nine Palestinian women and children from occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank were released from Israeli prisons on Friday, with dozens more scheduled to be released on Saturday.
  • Israeli forces nonetheless cracked down on Palestinians welcoming the return of Palestinian prisoners, injuring at least 31 people outside Ofer prison in the West Bank, and raiding homes of three women ahead of their release in East Jerusalem, threatening their families not to celebrate.
  • In exchange, 13 Israelis and 11 Thai and Filipino citizens who had been abducted by Palestinian resistance groups on October 7 left Gaza, and were reportedly in good physical condition.
  • Palestinians in Gaza have taken advantage of the four-day truce to take stock of the devastation, as well as receive some desperately needed aid, albeit in insufficient quantities.
  • Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates the toll to stand at 20,031 killed in Gaza, including 8,176 children. The Gaza Ministry of Health has stopped updating its own toll due to the breakdown of the communications and healthcare systems in Gaza, although the latest official toll from the Government Media Office in Gaza is 14,854 killed.
  • A Palestinian doctor was shot and killed by Israeli forces during an overnight raid in the West Bank town of Qabatiya.
  • Israeli forces raided a number of towns and villages across the occupied West Bank, detaining at least 19 Palestinians.
  • Palestinian resistance group says it killed two Palestinians in Tulkarem alleged to have collaborated with Israeli forces.
  • Spanish and Belgian premiers call for full ceasefire in Gaza and raise the possibility of recognizing a Palestinian state, sparking Israeli ire.
  • An Israeli-owned container ship is hit by a drone in the Indian Ocean, with no reported injuries.

First Hostage Swap Takes Place Amid Israeli Restrictions

The temporary truce entered its second day on Saturday, which marked day 50 of the war — as long as the 2014 war, which had been, until nearly two months ago, largely viewed as the most devastating Israeli onslaught on Gaza since the beginning of the blockade.

The most discussed development of the first day of the pause in fighting was the exchange of hostages held by Palestinian resistance groups and Israel. Twenty-four people — 13 Israeli women and children, 10 Thai nationals, and one Filipino citizen — who had been held by Palestinian groups in Gaza since October 7 were taken to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, before being flown into Israel and taken to a number of medical centers for check-ups, where they were said to be in good physical condition. Another 20 citizens from Thailand, the country which represents the largest group of foreign agricultural workers in Israel, are believed to still be in  Gaza.

Meanwhile, 39 Palestinians  — 17 teenagers, two of them girls, and 22 women from occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, all named by Al Jazeera here — who had been detained by Israel before the current violent onslaught, were able to return home on Friday.

However, Israeli forces set stringent rules for the release of Palestinians, forbidding any celebrations.

At least 31 Palestinians, including two children and a journalist, were injured by Israeli forces on Friday, who shot live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas at the crowd gathered outside of Ofer prison in the central West Bank in anticipation of the release of 28 prisoners there.

Meanwhile, 11 Palestinian prisoners returned home in occupied East Jerusalem. Earlier in the day, Israeli forces had raided the homes of three of the women to threaten their families if they celebrated their return.

According to AFP, another 39 to 42 Palestinians are expected to be released on Saturday in exchange for 14 Israelis. In total, 150 Palestinians and 50 Israelis are expected to be freed in the span of four days as per the truce agreement.

Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam quoted Qaddura Fares, the head of Palestinian Commission for Prisoners and Former Prisoners Affairs, as saying that, unlike previous prisoner swap deals, this one had ensured that the Palestinians released had their Israeli record officially expunged — theoretically lessening the odds that they may be detained by Israel once again for the same charges. A number of those released, however, had been imprisoned under Israel’s widespread and denounced policy of administrative detention, held without charges or trial.

Tensions remained high in anticipation of the release of more Palestinian captives on Saturday. According to a statement from Qaddura Fares, Palestinian resistance factions were upset over Israel allegedly “tampering” with the list of the released prisoners. Among some of the accusations included not abiding by the agreement to release the women and children in order, starting with the prisoners who had been in prison the longest. Another report by Al Jazeera English West Bank Correspondent Nida Ibrahim said that at least one mistake on the list was not rectified, when it included the name of a boy who had already been released prior to the hostage exchange.

At least 7,000 Palestinians, including 200 children and 62 women, were detained by Israel as of early November, according to prisoners rights group Addameer — with some 3,000 Palestinians detained since October 7, in a ratcheting up of incarceration of Palestinians that has been denounced as collective punishment.

Many of the Palestinians released from Israeli prisons on Friday in the exchange, as well as in recent weeks, have detailed tortuous tactics and conditions in Israeli custody, reporting that they were stripped naked, beaten, and collectively punished by Israeli forces and prison authorities.

The release of 150 Palestinians, as much of a relief as it may be for their families and communities, is a mere drop in the bucket as Israeli forces continue to detain Palestinians every single day, as they have for years.

Gaza Takes Stock Of Devastation

As freed Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem paid tribute to the sacrifices of the people in Gaza, the truce has left people in the besieged enclave taking stock of the scope of devastation of 48 days of relentless bombardment.

As bodies were recovered from under the rubble of destroyed buildings, the Gaza Ministry of Health has remained unable to confidently update its death toll for days, due to the breakdown in communications, especially in the northern Gaza Strip, and the near-total collapse of the healthcare system. The latest toll from the Government Media Office in Gaza earlier this week stood at 14,854 killed, including 6,150 children, with thousands reported missing and believed to be trapped under rubble. On Friday, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said its own counts estimated that 20,031 Palestinians had been killed, including 8,176 children, and more than 36,000 wounded.

Many Palestinians who had fled to southern Gaza sought to head back home on Friday to gauge the state of their homes or retrieve belongings, despite Israeli forces warning that they would not allow Palestinians to go back to the central and northern Gaza Strip. Just hours after the truce took effect, Israeli soldiers shot at people seeking to return home, killing two Palestinians.

Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in Gaza City, which was the site of a deadly strike on October 17, evacuated 70 wounded, sick, and medical staff on Friday towards the south, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) stated. Al-Shifa hospital, which was partially evacuated earlier in the week, and whose director has been detained by Israeli forces since, still hosts 100 patients and medical staff, for whom the World Health Organization said they were “extremely concerned”. The Indonesian hospital in Beit Lahia, another medical facility that has been severely targeted by Israeli forces, is also slated to be evacuated with the assistance of international agencies.

Meanwhile, more aid has begun trickling into the Gaza Strip, with PCRS reporting that 196 trucks carrying food, water, and medical supplies had entered the devastated Palestinian enclave, 61 of whom were headed to northern Gaza in the biggest convoy to head to the area since October 7.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 129,000 liters of fuel had entered Gaza on Friday, far less than the 200,000 liters a day the United Nations had previously said were needed.

The short pause in full-scale war has not in and of itself resolved the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where people continue to struggle to find food, water, and electricity, shortages that have had a ripple effect on the health of all people in Gaza, as Oxfam warned that babies were dying from preventable causes: “Without essential equipment and medical support, premature and underweight babies have little to no chance of survival.”

Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian Doctor In The West Bank

Meanwhile, Israeli forces didn’t take the day off in the occupied West Bank, staging raids in a number of towns and villages.

Israeli forces killed 25-year-old doctor Shamekh Kamal Abu al-Rub during a morning raid in the Jenin-area town of Qabatiya on Saturday, during which at least two Palestinians were injured and three others were detained.

At least 19 Palestinians were reportedly detained by Israeli forces across the West Bank overnight — half as many people as were released in the hostage swap that same day. Israeli army raids were notably reported in Tulkarem, al-Bireh, Tuqu’Ya’bad, and Qarawat Hani Bassan, during which a number of Palestinians were injured. Meanwhile, three journalists were temporarily detained near Hebron, and Israeli settlers attacked farmers in the area of Tulkarem.

In Tulkarem, Palestinian armed groups said they killed two Palestinians accused of having collaborated with the Israeli army.

International Community Raises Pressure On Israel Amid Calls For Full-Fledged Ceasefire

Foreign governmental envoys have continued to visit both Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials, with a noticeable shift in increased criticism of the scope of Israel’s violence, much to Tel Aviv’s displeasure.

The Israeli government has said it would summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors to Israel on Friday, after Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, calling for a permanent ceasefire.

“Way too many people have died, the destruction of Gaza is unacceptable. We cannot accept that a society is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed,” de Croo said, calling for a resumption of talks to achieve a political solution to the Israeli occupation: “There is no military solution to this conflict.”

Both Belgium and Spain have floated the possibility of recognizing a Palestinian state.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron met with a number of Palestinian Authority officials on Friday, before telling the BBC he had warned Israeli officials that “there won’t be long-term safety and security and stability for Israel unless there is long term safety, security, and stability for the Palestinian people.”

“When I met the Israeli president, prime minister and others, I stressed over and over again that they must abide by international humanitarian law, that the number of casualties are too high and they have to have that at the top of their minds,” Cameron said, adding that Israeli settler violence in the West Bank was “completely unacceptable.”

Earlier in the week, Pope Francis denounced the unleashing of Israeli violence in Gaza, saying that “we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism.”

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