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February 21, 2024

Hostage deal agreed to free 50 from Gaza and pause fighting

Hostage deal agreed to free 50 from Gaza and pause fighting

By NBC News

Coverage on this live blog has ended. Follow live updates here.

An agreement between Hamas and Israel for the release of 50 hostages held by Hamas won’t see anyone freed before Friday, Israel’s national security director said Wednesday.

“The contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,” National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi said.

The deal calls for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli jails to be released. It includes a four-day pause in fighting, which aid groups said should be taken advantage of to help the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The agreement comes after weeks of talks. Israel’s government said Tuesday that the war will continue, and that it still aims to “complete the elimination of Hamas.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the Red Cross will be allowed to visit hostages during the pause.

“I want to be clear, the war continues, we will continue it until we achieve all its goals,” Netanyahu said Wednesday.

Latest UNRWA report: 1.7 million people have been displaced across the Gaza Strip

The number of United Nations Relief and Works Agency aid workers who have died since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war has reached 108, the agency said.

“This is the highest number of United Nations aid workers killed in a conflict in the history of the United Nations. At least 40 percent have been killed south of Wadi Gaza,” according to a UNRWA report.

The report also indicates that nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced across the Gaza Strip since the attacks of Oct. 7.

Nearly 1,037,000 internally displaced persons are sheltering in 156 UNRWA camps across all five governorates of the Gaza Strip, including in the north, the UNRWA said.

The situation of UNRWA refugee camps is dire: On average, around 220 people sheltering in UNRWA schools share a single toilet, and there is one shower unit for every 4,500 people in UNRWA shelters, according to the report.

Fringe proposal to displace Palestinians draws condemnation and triggers past trauma

Despite Israel and Hamas agreeing on a deal to pause the fighting in Gaza, a once fringe idea is gaining traction among members of Israel’s hard-right government: Displace Palestinians from the enclave to make room for Israeli settlements.

The mere proposal has painful historical echoes for Palestinians — who were forcibly displaced from what became Israel during the 1948 “Nakba,” meaning catastrophe — and could constitute ethnic cleansing and a war crime, according to some experts and activists.

The idea was given its most mainstream platform this week after Netanyahu’s intelligence minister, Gila Gamliel, floated “the voluntary resettlement of Palestinians in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons, outside of the Strip,” in an opinion piece for the Jerusalem Post newspaper Sunday.

Gamliel heads a ministry that does not set policy and, since she’s not a part of Israel’s war Cabinet, these decisions are not in her direct purview. Nevertheless, the op-ed was met with shock and revulsion across the Arab world, some of the West and in sections of social media.

A Palestinian boy stands amidst the rubble of a building following Israeli strikes Wednesday in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.Said Khatib / AFP – Getty Images

Read the full story here.

Biden calls Egyptian president about joint interests, Egyptian spokesperson says

Biden called Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to discuss their shared interests in the Israel-Hamas war, Egypt’s presidential spokesperson said on Facebook.

According to the post, Biden thanked el-Sissi for his role in mediating the temporary truce agreement between Hamas and Israel. El-Sissi stressed Egypt’s desire to spare bloodshed and achieve stability in the region. The White House also said in a statement that Biden echoed el-Sissi’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Biden expressed that the U.S. refuses the idea of forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Egyptian territory, the post said.

“Both presidents at the end of the call agreed to continue consultations and synchronization between both sides to benefit from the current truce that would enforce stability and security in the region,” it said.

Blinken thanks Qatari PM for brokering deal

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani for his “critical efforts to help broker the deal” between Israel and Hamas.

On the call, Blinken and Al Thani discussed “ongoing efforts” to bring home more than 200 hostages held by Hamas, as well as the need for humanitarian aid in Gaza and a safe way out for foreign nationals still in Gaza.

Blinken emphasized that the U.S. “remains committed” to finding a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, according to a U.S. readout of the call.

Under the deal, 50 Hamas hostages would be released in exchange for 150 Palestinians who have been held in Israel. It is also expected to bring a four-day pause in fighting.

USAID administrator says humanitarian groups need to take advantage of pause

Abigail Williams

The U.S. is committed to scaling up the humanitarian response to civilians in Gaza, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development said today after an agreement that calls for a pause in the fighting was announced.

Samantha Power underscored “the need to take advantage of the pause to accelerate humanitarian assistance into Gaza and for sustained operations thereafter” in a conversation with United Nations agencies, a spokesperson for USAID said.

Israel and Hamas reached an agreement for a four-day pause in the fighting in a deal that calls for 50 civilian hostages held by Hamas to be released and for Palestinians in Israeli prisons to be released.

It has not yet happened, and hostages are not expected to be freed before Friday.

Who are the Houthis, and how could their attack escalate the war?

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues, Yemen’s Houthi rebels hijacked a ship in the Red Sea and took dozens of people hostage. The U.S. is calling for the immediate release of the hostages.

Tel Aviv tunnel installation highlights plight of hostages

Matthew Nighswander

Oded Balilty / AP

People walk through a simulated tunnel in Tel Aviv today in an act of solidarity with hostages believed to be held underground by Hamas.

Susan Sarandon, ‘Scream’ actor Melissa Barrera dropped by Hollywood companies after remarks about Israel-Hamas war

Oscar-winning actor Susan Sarandon and “Scream” franchise actor Melissa Barrera have been dropped by Hollywood companies after they both made comments about the Israel-Hamas war that drew scrutiny and accusations of antisemitism.

Sarandon was dropped by the United Talent Agency after she made remarks at a pro-Palestinian rally in New York last week, according to a spokesperson for the firm, who did not elaborate on the decision. The New York Post reported that the actor called for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege and bombarded by Israeli forces since the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7.

Sarandon, a prolific political activist known for her left-wing views, received criticism after she said at a rally Friday that people who are “afraid of being Jewish at this time” are “getting a taste of what it feels like to be Muslim in this country, so often subjected to violence.”

In a separate development, Spyglass Media Group confirmed that it dropped Barrera from the “Scream” horror series after a series of Instagram posts that reportedly condemned Israel in strong terms.

Read the full story here.

The Israel Defense Forces allowed Reuters cameras in what the IDF described as a tunnel system used by Hamas as a command central underneath the Al-Shifa Hospital complex. The news agency said Israel’s military reviewed all their video after the visit but nothing was removed.

NBC News is not able to independently verify IDF’s characterizations of the tunnels.

Hostages release delayed until at least Friday, Israeli national security director says

Although initial reports indicated hostages held by Hamas may be released as soon as tomorrow morning, National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi said releases won’t start until Friday.

“The contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,” Hanegbi said in a statement. “The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday.”

Details on what might have caused the delay were not immediately available.

International law questions abound as Israeli forces raid Gaza hospitals

For more than a week, Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City was front and center in Israel’s military offensive. Outside, gunbattles raged and tanks closed in. As power was cut off, doctors reported sniper fire, bomb blasts and deteriorating conditions as trapped civilians crowded onto bloodstained floors, food and water ran out, and premature babies died after incubators shut down from lack of fuel. Last Wednesday, Israeli soldiers raided the complex in search of a Hamas “command center” and hostages. 

The Israel Defense Forces has since seized control of at least two other hospitals in the north of the besieged and bombarded enclave. On Monday, Indonesian Hospital came under attack, with the IDF saying it retaliated after “terrorists opened fire from within,” though it said that it did not shell the hospital in return. 

The raids have raised the prospect that the IDF could be found to have violated international humanitarian law, since hospitals, including patients and medical staff, receive special protection during armed conflict. 

And while medical facilities, like hospitals, can lose their protection from military attacks under certain conditions, according to experts, the law sets a high bar to justify these attacks. 

Read the full story here.

Israeli woman hopes her children are part of the hostage deal

TEL AVIV —Hadas Kalderon, of Kibbutz Nir Oz, says life has been absolute “hell” for her since Oct. 7, when Hamas killed her mother and niece and took her two children hostage along with her ex-husband. She said she was hopeful her nightmare would be over, if indeed her kids are part of Hamas and Israel’s deal to release some women and children.

Kalderon said she wasn’t informed about the deal in advance. No one has even told her what a reunion will look like if her children are in fact released, Kalderson said.

“I know it the moment I see them and hug them then I know that my nightmare is finished,” Kalderon said. “Until then, everything is fragile. Everything is delicate.”

Hadas Kalderon stands in the ruins of her mother’s home in Kibbutz Nir Oz.Maya Alleruzzo / AP file

She hopes that she might be able to celebrate her teenage son’s birthday, which was Oct. 26, and hear her “beautiful girl” tell her how much she loves her again. Right now, Kalderon has a cake ready and plans for a big party for her son.

“And he’s going to get the best present ever,” Kalderon said. “Whatever he wants, I’ll give him.”

Funeral for Lebanese cameraman killed in Israeli strike

Matthew Nighswander

Bilal Hussein / AP

Manal Jaafar holds a photo of her husband, Rabih Maamari, a cameraman at pan-Arab TV network Al-Mayadeen, during his funeral today in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh. According to Lebanese officials and the broadcaster, Maamari and correspondent Farah Omar were killed Tuesday in an Israeli strike as they covered military activity along Lebanon’s border with Israel.

‘This dystopian reality’: Humanitarian organizations ponder the long-term effects of the war

One child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza and 5,800 of the 14,000 civilians killed so far are kids, according to Jason Lee from Save the Children Palestine.

Avril Benoît, from Doctors Without Borders, said in a media briefing with other humanitarian organizations that Gaza is “like this dystopian reality now.” He added that “all the normal scaffolding of what is the conduct of responsible parties in a conflict have been completely perverted and the supporters of some of these belligerents are standing by watching it happen and what we’re watching happen, of course, may well be war crimes.”

Some of the participants touched on the long-term effects of the war in Gaza.

Paul O’Brien, from Amnesty International, expressed deep concern that the outcomes of the “forced displacement that’s already happening in the region is not actually temporary.” Samah Hadid from the Norwegian Refugee Council called Israel’s evacuation order a “forcible relocation of the population.”

Israeli strikes in northern Gaza today as seen from the Israeli side of the border.John MacDougall / AFP – Getty Images

Netanyahu and defense minister vow to ‘obliterate Hamas’

During a media briefing late today, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to bring all the hostages home and eradicate Hamas.

“Citizens of Israel, I want to be clear: the war continues,” Netanyahu said. “The war continues. We will continue until we meet all our objectives.”

He also said that the country has historically fought to bring hostages home in every case, even mentioning the 1976 Entebbe raid during which his own brother died while serving in the IDF. He offered condolences to all hostage families and said that he believes the hostage deal was the right decision to set the tone for future releases.

Gallant said he was torn over the idea of leaving some people behind, but echoed Netanyahu’s sentiments about it being the right decision and that Israel’s commitment to bringing people home remains strong.

“I can tell you that I, the IDF, the ISA, and the entire security establishment are very much determined to follow through with this war until we achieve all the goals: to obliterate Hamas as a government and as a military organization and to free all the hostages,” Gallant said.

Israeli military vehicles in the northern Gaza Strip today. Ahikam Seri / AFP – Getty Images

Mithil Aggarwal



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