Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “fight until victory” in Gaza, signaling no pause in his military’s bombardment and expected invasion of the enclave after Hamas released two U.S. hostages.
The Islamist group Hamas on Friday released U.S. mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan who were kidnapped in its attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.
They were the first hostages confirmed by both sides in the conflict to be freed since Hamas gunmen burst into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mainly civilians, and taking around 200 hostages.
“Two of our abductees are at home. We are not giving up on the effort to return all abducted and missing people,” Netanyahu said in a statement released late Friday night.
“At the same time, we’ll continue to fight until victory,” he added.
An image obtained by Reuters after their release, showed the two surrounded by three Israeli soldiers and holding hands with Gal Hirsch, Israel’s coordinator for the captives and missing. In the image, Natalie is wearing jeans and a grey hoodie while Judith was wearing a long blue shirt.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said the hostages were released in response to Qatari mediation efforts, “for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless”.
But the violence continued.
Israeli aircraft struck six homes in northern Gaza early on Saturday, killing at least eight Palestinians and injuring 45, Palestinian media reported.
Israel has already told all civilians to evacuate the northern half of the Gaza Strip, which includes Gaza City. Many people have yet to leave saying they fear losing everything and have nowhere safe to go with southern areas also under attack.
At least 4,137 Palestinians have been killed, including hundreds of children, and 13,000 wounded in Gaza, the Palestinian health ministry said. The U.N. says more than a million have been made homeless.
Asked if Israel had so far followed the laws of war in it’s response, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated on Friday that Israel has the right to defend itself and make sure Hamas is not able to launch attacks again.
“It’s important that operations be conducted in accordance with international law, humanitarian law, the law of war… There will be plenty of time to make assessments about how these operations were conducted but I can just say from the part of the United States, this continues to be important to us,” he added
The United Nations humanitarian affairs office said more than 140,000 homes – nearly a third of all homes in Gaza – have been damaged, with nearly 13,000 completely destroyed.
International attention has focused on getting aid to Gaza through the one access point not controlled by Israel, the Rafah crossing to Egypt.
Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday, said he believed trucks carrying aid would get through in the next 24-48 hours.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres toured the checkpoint on Egypt’s side on Friday and called for a meaningful number of trucks to enter Gaza every day and checks – which Israel insists on to stop aid reaching Hamas – to be quick and pragmatic.
Western leaders have so far mostly offered support to Israel’s campaign against Hamas, although there is mounting unease about the plight of civilians in Gaza.
Many Muslim states, however, have called for an immediate ceasefire, and protests demanding an end to the bombardment were held in cities across the Islamic world on Friday.