Israel Latest: Hamas Says Two US Hostages Held in Gaza Released

Hamas said two US citizens held in Gaza have been released. Israeli media reported that they were handed over to the Red Cross.

(Bloomberg) — Hamas said two US citizens held in Gaza have been released. Israeli media reported that they were handed over to the Red Cross. 

Leaders from around the region are heading to Cairo for a Saturday summit on the crisis, with China and Germany also sending envoys to the meeting. Israel’s military said it struck Hamas targets in Gaza overnight. Israel also responded to fire from Lebanon by hitting Hezbollah assets. The Iran-backed militant group said it fired guided missiles at several Israeli sites. Global stocks retreated and oil rose. 

US President Joe Biden said the first aid deliveries from Egypt should reach the territory within two days, as the Rafah border crossing remained closed. Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, again called for a ‘Day of Rage’ on Friday, the most important day of prayer for Muslims.

(All time stamps are Israeli time)

Hamas Says Two US Hostages Released (9:05 p.m.)

Hamas said it released two US citizens held hostage in Gaza — a mother and her daughter — in response to mediation efforts by Qatar. Israel’s Channel 12 television reported that two Americans have been handed over to the Red Cross.

It wasn’t immediately possible to verify the claims by Hamas or identify the two Americans. 

Biden Says Aid From Egypt to Start Within 2 Days (7:49PM)

President Joe Biden said the first trucks of humanitarian aid would make their way from Egypt to Gaza within the next day or two. “I believe that within the next 24 to 48 hours, the first 20 trucks will come across the border,” he told reporters Friday.

Biden previously said he left Israel with a promise from the Egyptian and Israeli governments to let food, water and medical supplies pass through the Rafah Gate as soon as Friday, but the crossing has remained closed.

US Senators Visit Saudi to Boost Israel Talks (7:00 p.m.)

A bipartisan group of US senators arrived in Saudi Arabia as part of a trip through the region aimed at keeping Saudi-Israeli diplomacy on track and trying to prevent Israel’s conflict with Hamas from spreading into a wider war.

The group of 10 senators includes the No. 2 Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, as well as Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Also among the travelers are several senators who sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will weigh a White House request that includes extra funding for Israel and Ukraine.

Israel to Get Air Defense Upgrade in Biden Aid (6:40 p.m.)

The Biden administration’s congressional request for Israel includes $4 billion to procure missile interceptors for the Iron Dome and short-range David Sling that comprise the mainstay of its layer air defense system.

The request also includes $1.2 billion to help Israel develop the Iron Beam laser defense system that can counter short-range rockets and mortars, and the removal of curbs on the amount of US military equipment stockpiled in Israel that the Israeli military can withdraw.

Gaza Church Says 18 Dead in Israeli Strike (6:10 p.m.)

Members of the small Christian community in Gaza held a funeral for 18 Christian Palestinians killed at a church as a result of an Israeli airstrike, according to church officials and the Hamas-run Health Ministry. 

Church leaders and witnesses said more than 400 Christians, close to half the Christian population of Gaza, were sheltering at the church when it was struck Thursday night. The Israeli military said it had targeted a Hamas control center nearby, and the church was not the target of any strike.

China to Send Envoy to Cairo Summit on Gaza (6:00 p.m.)

China will send its Middle East envoy Zhai Jun to the summit scheduled in Cairo Saturday on the Israel-Hamas war, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China reiterated that it’s willing to work with other nations to push for a Gaza ceasefire, avoid humanitarian disaster and resume peace talks. China has stepped up its involvement in Middle East diplomacy this year by brokering a detente between longtime rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Hezbollah Says It’s Targeting Sites in Israel (4:21pm)

Iran-backed Hezbollah said it targeted multiple sites in Israel with guided missiles, according to the militant group’s Al Manar TV. The Israeli military reported about 20 launches into Israel from Lebanon, as well as several anti-tank missiles fired at military posts near the border. It reported no casualties and responded with artillery fire.

Stocks Sink as Oil Surpasses $90 (2:46 p.m.)

Stocks fell, Treasuries rose and oil topped $90 a barrel on concern the war between Israel and Hamas may widen to a regional conflict. Europe’s Stoxx 600 Index dropped 1%, while the S&P 500 also declined. Gold approached $2,000 an ounce. The Israeli shekel weakened for a 10th day.

“The risk premium in crude has shot up again,” said Vandana Hari, founder of consultancy Vanda Insights. “As long as the Israel-Hamas tensions run high, crude will remain susceptible to further spikes on signs of an escalation.”

Defense Minister Outlines Objectives (2:30 p.m.)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the country aims to eliminate Hamas and destroy its military and governing capabilities, remove Israel’s responsibility for running the Gaza Strip and create a “new security reality” in the region. He was speaking with the foreign affairs and defense committee at the ministry in Tel Aviv.

UN Chief Working on Aid for Gazans (1:15 p.m.)

The United Nations is currently “engaging” all parties including Israel, the US and Egypt to clarify conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the 2 million people in Gaza, UN chief Antonio Guterres said at the Rafah Crossing.

“It is absolutely essential to solve these problems as soon a possible,” he said, as lines of trucks awaited on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza. “Unfortunately this is not an ordinary humanitarian operation. It is an operation in a war zone,” he said.

Germany to Join Summit in Cairo (12:30 p.m.)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will extend her Middle East trip and fly to Cairo for a planned summit on Saturday. Leaders from several states of the Middle East will come together “to prevent a regional conflagration,” she told reporters in Tel Aviv after a meeting with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Abdullah II of Jordan and the foreign ministers from France and the UK are also expected to take part in the event hosted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi in Cairo on Saturday, according to people familiar with the planning.

Israel Evacuates Northern Residents (12:00 p.m.)

Israel announced on Friday it’s evacuating all 22,000 residents of Kiryat Shmona, which is a mile from the border with Lebanon. The town, one of the largest in the far north, has come under rocket and mortar assault from Hezbollah and Palestinian groups in southern Lebanon. Three people were wounded in one of the attacks. 

The inhabitants will go into government-subsidized guesthouses, part of a general order to move all those who live within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the Lebanese border out of concern that the war in Gaza will inspire anti-Israel groups in Lebanon to attack in full force. The military also said the evacuation will allow it to operate more freely in the area.

Israel Strikes at Hamas and Hezbollah (9:35 a.m.)

Israel’s military said it struck over 100 Hamas targets overnight and killed a naval operative from the militant group who took part in the Oct. 7 attacks. The targets included an underground tunnel, weapon warehouses and command centers, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF also said it struck several Hezbollah military assets in response to fire from Lebanon, where the Iran-backed group is based. An Israeli drone strike killed one militant in Lebanese territory.

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