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Aid starts to trickle into Gaza; Qatar negotiates the release of American hostages

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's actually some good news in Israel as two U.S. hostages, a mother and daughter, were released by Hamas following diplomatic efforts by Qatar. And a trickle of desperately needed humanitarian aid is finally being allowed to cross over from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. This all while people wait for a possible Israeli military ground operation in the Gaza Strip. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following events from Jerusalem. Peter, thanks for being with us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with the two hostages who were released. What do we know?

KENYON: They are Judith Raanan and her 19-year-old daughter, Natalie. They hail from Chicago. Natalie's father said when he hugs her, it will be the happiest day of his life. The Israeli government issued a statement announcing the release, saying they were taken to a military base and were safe. The statement also said Israel would do everything in its power to bring the rest of the hostages home.

SIMON: Of course, this is wonderful news for that family. What do we know about any other efforts for the release of hostages?

KENYON: Well, this is what has so many other families worried. The Israeli goal militarily is to destroy Hamas's ability to carry out terror attacks like the one on October 7. And there's certainly strong support for that goal in Israel. I spoke with analyst Eyal Zisser at Tel Aviv University. Here's how he put it.

EYAL ZISSER: You know, usually, the Israeli calculation is, we'll send forces. One of our soldiers might be killed, might be kidnapped. But after what happened, what does it matter? So I think there is more readiness in Israel to, yes, do whatever is needed.

KENYON: But Hamas appears to be using civilians, both Palestinians and Israeli hostages, as human shields. And I should add that so far, there's been no official confirmation that a widely expected Israeli ground operation will actually go ahead for sure. That's another thing people here will be watching out for. It would seem like an incredibly difficult mission to eliminate Hamas's ability to carry out terror attacks without a major loss of civilian life.

SIMON: Meanwhile, earlier today, 20 trucks carrying aid crossed from Egypt into Gaza. We understand it's now closed because those trucks have all passed. What can you tell us about the aid?

KENYON: Well, not long ago, we saw the first reports of the aid trucks being led by a U.N. vehicle moving not only through the Egyptian side of the crossing but onward toward the Gaza Strip. A Hamas statement said the aid they were bringing to Gaza includes food, medicine and medical supplies - crucially, no fuel, which Israel had questioned, but which Gaza hospitals need for emergency generators. And they also need it to run the desalination plants Gaza relies on to provide safe drinking water. A Palestinian Red Crescent worker called the aid very disappointing. And another point - in addition to what was left out, this just isn't nearly enough aid to care for more than 2 million Gazans. There are some 200 trucks waiting to cross. Hamas said this won't change the catastrophic medical conditions in Gaza, and the lack of fuel is exacerbating that. There is some hope, maybe the only hope, that they got one delivery across. And maybe that would clear the way for more in the future.

SIMON: And at the same time, violence seems to be escalating beyond Gaza into the West Bank and at the northern border, including reports of rockets and fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon. What do we know about that?

KENYON: Israel says an IDF reservist was killed by an anti-tank missile near the Israeli-Lebanese border yesterday. In Cairo, an international gathering's taking place to discuss ways of de-escalating the conflict. But neither Iran nor Israel is attending. I spoke with Israeli analyst and columnist Dahlia Scheindlin, who told me the Hezbollah attacks are very concerning because of the prospect of this widening into a broader regional war. She says at the moment, she feels, quote, "closer to a regional war than we have ever been" in her lifetime.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.