Israel, Hamas exchange more detainees as ceasefire extended 2 more days

Israel and Hamas have agreed to extend their ceasefire for two more days past Monday, raising the prospect of further exchanges of militant-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and of a longer halt to their deadliest and most destructive war.

Deal raises hopes for more swaps of Israeli hostages for imprisoned Palestinians

People walk amid the debris of destroyed buildings.
Palestinians walk amid debris of buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City on Monday. (Omar El-Qattaa/AFP/Getty Images)

The latest:

  • 11 hostages have been freed and are back in Israel, country's military says.
  • 33 Palestinians released from Israeli prisons, Hamas-affiliated media reports.
  • UN says the truce makes it possible to scale up aid delivery to Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have agreed to extend their ceasefire for two more days past Monday, raising the prospect of further exchanges of militant-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and of a longer halt to their deadliest and most destructive war.

Eleven Israeli women and children, freed by Hamas, entered Israel Monday night in the fourth swap under the original four-day truce, which began Friday and was due to run out today.

Hours later, a Red Cross bus carrying 33 Palestinians released from prison by Israel  — Hamas-affiliated media reported they were 30 children and three women — arrived in the West Bank town of Ramallah early Tuesday. They were greeted by loud cheers from crowds surrounding the bus as it made its way through the streets of the city.

The deal for two additional days of ceasefire, announced by Qatar, raised hopes for further extensions, which also allow more aid into Gaza. Conditions there have remained dire for 2.3 million Palestinians, battered by weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground offensive that have driven three-quarters of the population from their homes.

WATCH | Israeli mom hopes for son's return: 

With her daughter back, Israeli mother hopes her son being held hostage will be freed

5 months ago
Duration 1:16
Mirit Regev's two children were taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. While Regev's daughter, Maya, was released as part of the temporary truce in Gaza, she hopes her son, Itay, will be returned as well — and that it will happen for other families of hostages.

Israel has said it would extend the ceasefire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. After the announcement by Qatar — a key mediator in the conflict, along with the United States and Egypt — Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a two-day extension "under the same terms."

But Israel says it remains committed to crushing Hamas's military capabilities and ending its 16-year rule over Gaza after its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. That would likely mean expanding a ground offensive from devastated northern Gaza to the south.

Monday's releases bring to 51 the number of Israelis freed under the truce, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far, 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.

'Extremely emotional'

Among those released over the weekend were the wife and three children of Avichai Brodutch.

Aharon Brodutch, who lives in Toronto, was in Israel to see his brother, Avichai, reunited with his family after seven weeks of anxious waiting, which included several hours on Saturday where the deal to free hostages appeared to be in jeopardy due to disagreements over aid deliveries into Gaza.

"We knew that things were not certain until we saw them," said Aharon Brodutch, who was waiting at the Schneider Children's Medical Centre, alongside families of other hostages, for the helicopter transporting them to touch down.

A family poses for a photograh.
Avichai Brodutch, second from right, poses with his family after they were reunited in Israel on Monday. Brodutch's wife, Hagar, centre, and their three children were released by Hamas. (Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel/Reuters)

Hagar Brodutch, 38, and children Ofri, 10, Uval, 8, and Uriah, 4, finally met again with Avichai, who has held a one-man vigil outside Israel's Defence Ministry building in Tel Aviv in recent weeks. 

"Extremely emotional," Aharon Brodutch said of the reunion. "You could see on Hagar's face what a tough time she's had there."

The Brodutches were taken from their home in Kfar Aza, an Israeli farming community of 750 that was brutalized during the Oct. 7 attack.

WATCH | Red Cross still seeking access to Hamas hostages: 

Red Cross still seeking access to Hamas hostages

5 months ago
Duration 1:13
Sarah Davies, with the International Committee of the Red Cross, says the safety of hostages remains the top priority as teams try to gain access to people being held by Hamas.

Aharon says Avichai left his family to try to fight off attackers and was injured as a result. When he returned home, he discovered his family had been taken hostage, along with Edan, the four-year-old Israeli-American girl, who had run toward the Brodutch's house amid the chaos while her two older brothers survived by sheltering in a closet for hours.

Aharon told CBC News that Edan was with Hagar Brodutch and her children the entire time they were in captivity.

"It was tough. [Hagar] had to hold her own kids, plus Abigail," said Aharon. "That is not easy to kind of keep everyone's spirits up."

Respite in Gaza

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel's ground offensive.

The calm from the truce allowed glimpses of the destruction wreaked by weeks of Israeli bombardment that levelled entire neighbourhoods.

An aerial view show destroyed buildings.
Palestinians inspect the destruction caused by Israeli strikes on their homes in the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Yunis near the border fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, on Monday. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

Footage showed a complex of several dozen multi-storey residential buildings that had been pummeled into a landscape of wreckage in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Nearly every building was destroyed or severely damaged, some reduced to concrete frames half-slumped over. At a nearby United Nations school, the buildings were intact but partially burned and riddled with holes.

The Israeli assault has driven three-quarters of Gaza's population from their homes, and now most of its 2.3 million people are crowded into the south. More than one million are living in UN shelters. The Israeli military has barred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from returning north.

Rain and wind added to the hardship of displaced Palestinians sheltering in the compound of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza. Palestinians in coats baked flatbreads over a makeshift fire among tents set up on the muddy grounds.

Palestinians gather as they wait to receive flour bags distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Khan Younis on Monday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Alaa Mansour said the conditions are simply horrendous.

"My clothes are all wet, and I am unable to change them." said Mansour, who is disabled. "I have not drunk water for two days, and there's no bathroom to use." 

The UN says the truce made it possible to scale up the delivery of food, water and medicine to the largest volume since the start of the war. But the 160 to 200 trucks a day is still less than half what Gaza was importing before the fighting, even as humanitarian needs have soared.

WATCH | UN relief agency aims to get aid into northern Gaza: 

UN relief agency aims to get aid into northern Gaza

5 months ago
Duration 1:04
A director with the UN agency tasked with aiding Palestinians said teams are trying to get into hard-hit Gaza City and surrounding areas.

Long lines formed outside stations distributing cooking fuel, allowed in for the first time. Fuel for generators has been brought for key service providers, including hospitals and water and sanitation facilities, but bakeries have been unable to resume work, the UN said. 

Iyad Ghafary, a vendor in the urban Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, said many families were still unable to retrieve the dead from under the rubble left by Israeli airstrikes, and that local authorities weren't equipped to deal with the level of destruction.

Many say the aid is not nearly enough.

Amani Taha, a widow and mother of three who fled northern Gaza, said she had only managed to get one canned meal from a UN distribution centre since the ceasefire began.

She said the crowds have overwhelmed local markets and gas stations as people try to stock up on basics. "People were desperate and went out to buy whenever they could," she said. "They are extremely worried that the war will return."

With files from CBC's Briar Stewart