Hamas frees 16 hostages, including American, amid talks to extend Gaza ceasefire
Driving the news: Israeli American Liat Beinin Atzili, 49, was among the hostages Hamas released on Wednesday — the second U.S. citizen to be freed by the militant group since the pause in fighting began late last week.
- Four Thai nationals and two Russian Israelis were also among those Hamas released on Wednesday.
- Thirty more Palestinian women and children were released from Israeli prisons as part of the agreement between Israel and Hamas.
- Wednesday's releases come after Hamas freed 60 Israeli women and children and Israel released 180 Palestinian prisoners under the deal. Hamas has also released more than 20 others — mostly Thai nationals — under separate agreements.
- More than 240 people, including several Americans, were abducted during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. At least 1,200 people were killed in the attack, according to Israeli officials. Prior to the most recent releases, four hostages, including two Americans, were freed, one was rescued and two others were found dead.
Zoom out: The Biden administration at the highest levels has been heavily involved in the hostages negotiations.
- Before Atzili's release on Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that U.S. officials believe that seven to nine Americans were among those still held hostage in Gaza.
What they're saying: "Jill and I are deeply gratified that [Atzili] will soon be reunited with her three children and her father, who have been wracked with worry for her safety," President Biden said on Wednesday.
- "And we remain determined to secure the release of every person taken hostage by Hamas during its brutal terrorist assault on Israel on October 7, including Liat's husband Aviv," he added.
Atzili's father said in a statement he was "incredibly relieved and grateful that my daughter is alive and will soon be returned to her family. "
- "Although I am overjoyed that she will be reunited with us, I remain committed to the mission of bringing my son-in-law, Aviv, home as well," he added.
Zoom in: The pause in fighting has offered a short reprieve to the more than 2.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza who had been under Israel's heavy bombardment since the war began.
- More than 14,800 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.
- Under the hostage deal, Israel has allowed more fuel and an increased number of trucks carrying aid into the enclave.
- Aid groups have welcomed the increased aid levels but have also warned that it is only a fraction of what is needed to address the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
What to watch: While Israel has expressed it's willing to extend the pause in fighting in exchange for Hamas releasing more hostages, it has also vowed to continue the war "with full military power" after the humanitarian ceasefire ends.
- "We will fight in the entire Strip," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week. Israel has said its goal in the war is to "destroy" Hamas and bring home all the hostages.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with Biden's statement.