More Israeli hostages freed and more Palestinian prisoners released under tenuous Gaza truce
Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners Friday, hours after Hamas freed additional Israeli hostages under a last-minute agreement to extend their cease-fire by another day in Gaza. But any further extension renewal, now in its eighth day, could prove more challenging as Hamas is expected to set a higher price for many of the remaining hostages.
Hamas freed six hostages hours after releasing two Israeli women Thursday afternoon. All were handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza after eight weeks in captivity. They were brought to Israel for medical evaluations and to be reunited with their families, the Israeli military said.
A busload of 30 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel was welcomed home in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Dozens of men, some holding green Hamas flags, greeted the prisoners. The men were hugged as the crowd chanted, “God is great.”
During the truce, at least 10 Israelis a day, along with other nationals, have been freed by Hamas in return for Israel’s release of at least 30 Palestinian prisoners. Asked why Hamas on Thursday released fewer than 10 hostages, as outlined in the cease-fire agreement, the military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, noted that 12 Israeli citizens had been released the day before, implying that the overall total had met Israeli demands.
“We insist on getting the maximum possible,” Hagari said. “It’s been that way every day and also today.”
International pressure has mounted for the truce to continue as long as possible after weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and more than three-quarters of the population of 2.3 million have been uprooted, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
Israel has vowed to resume the fighting — with the goal of dismantling Hamas — once the cease-fire ends.
The cease-fire was set to expire Friday, though international mediators are working to extend it. The talks appear to be growing tougher, with Hamas having already freed most of the women and children it kidnapped on Oct. 7. The militants are expected to make greater demands in return for freeing scores of civilian men and soldiers. Roughly 140 hostages are believed to remain in Hamas captivity.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials on his third visit to the region since the start of the war, said he hoped the cease-fire could be extended and more hostages could be released.
Blinken also said that if Israel resumes the war and moves against southern Gaza to pursue Hamas, it must do so in “compliance with international humanitarian law” and must have “a clear plan in place” to protect civilians. He said Israeli leaders understood that ”the massive levels of civilian life and displacement scale we saw in the north not be repeated in the south.”
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south with no exit, raising questions over how an Israeli offensive there can avoid heavy civilian casualties.
Qatar and Egypt, which have played a key role in mediating, are seeking to prolong the deal by another two days, according to Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s State Information Service.
Thursday morning, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on people waiting for buses along a main highway entering Jerusalem, killing at least three people and wounding several others, according to Israeli police.
The two attackers, brothers from a neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem, were killed. After the attack, six other members of the family were detained, and the government ordered their house demolished. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, casting it as retaliation for the killing of women and children in Gaza and the occupied West Bank and other Israeli “crimes.”
The attack did not appear to threaten the truce in Gaza. But escalating violence — including Israeli raids — in the West Bank and east Jerusalem could blow back to wreck the quiet in Gaza, even though these areas are not covered under the cease-fire.
TENSE HOSTAGE TALKS
Netanyahu is under intense pressure from families of the hostages to bring them home. But his far-right governing partners are also pushing him to continue the war until Hamas is destroyed, and could abandon his coalition if he is seen as making too many concessions.
Israel says it will maintain the truce until Hamas stops releasing captives, at which point it will resume military operations, even as the Biden administration has urged it to operate with far greater precision if it does so.
The initial truce, which began Nov. 24 and has now been extended twice, called for the release of women and children.
Hamas said it handed over the two women released earlier Thursday to the Red Cross in Gaza City, suggesting they may have been held in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops have controlled much of the area for weeks and have been searching for hostages.
It’s not clear how many of the remaining women hostages might be soldiers. For soldiers and the civilian men still in captivity, Hamas is expected to demand the release of high-profile Palestinians convicted of deadly attacks, something Israel has strongly resisted in the past.
Israel says around 125 men are still held hostage, including several dozen soldiers.
The Palestinians released by Israel include 22 teenagers and eight Israeli Palestinian women who were arrested since the war started, most of them for pro-Palestinian social media posts, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, which advocates for prisoners. Israeli authorities have carried out a crackdown on such posts, arresting more than 270 Palestinian citizens on allegations of inciting violence, according to rights groups.
The 240 Palestinians released so far under the cease-fire have mostly been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several of the freed women were convicted by military courts of attempting to attack soldiers, some of them after being found carrying scissors or knives near security positions.
A total of 83 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released, including several men.
Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza. On Thursday, the military confirmed the death of Ofir Tzarfati, who was believed to be among the hostages, without providing any further details. The 27-year-old attended a music festival where at least 360 people were killed and several others were kidnapped on Oct. 7.
Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed over 1,200 people — mostly civilians — in their wide-ranging attack across southern Israel that day and took around 240 people captive. Authorities have only provided approximate figures.
Israel’s bombardment and invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11. The ministry says thousands more people are feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
Palestinians in Gaza have been calling for a permanent end to the war, saying the temporary truces don’t resolve the humanitarian catastrophe in the territory. Over 1.8 million people have fled their homes, with more than 1 million sheltering in U.N. schools and struggling to find basic items including cooking gas and flour.
Ukraine's Zelenskiy calls for fortifications in key frontline areas
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for faster construction of fortifications in key sectors under pressure from Russian forces, particularly in eastern Ukraine, the focal point of Moscow's advances 21 months into its invasion.
Zelenskiy issued his appeal after touring Ukrainian positions in the northeast, one of several areas where Russian forces have been trying to make recent headway - and recapture areas taken back by Ukrainian troops a year ago. He said one of the meetings he held with commanders dealt with fortifications.
"In all major sectors where reinforcement is needed, there should be a boost and an acceleration in the construction of structures," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
"This of course means the greatest attention to the Avdiivka, Maryinka and other sectors in Donetsk region. In Kharkiv region, this means the Kupiansk sector and the Kupiansk-Lyman line."
Russia has made slow progress in trying to secure all of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but has boosted attacks in several areas. These include Kupiansk near Kharkiv, retaken by Ukraine in a drive through the northeast a year ago.
Russian occupying forces have built solid fortifications and minefields of their own in areas they have held since pouring over the border in February 2022.
Those defences have been a key factor in holding back a Ukrainian counteroffensive under way since June. Ukrainian troops have made only incremental gains in the east and south.
Russian forces have focused attention since mid-October on the devastated town of Avdiivka, known for its vast coking plant and its position as a gateway to the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk, 20 km (12 miles) to the east.
Military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun said Ukrainian forces had rebuffed Russian attacks on the coking plant.
"The plant is under our control. The enemy is suffering significant losses there," Shtupun told Espreso TV, noting Russian artillery and air attacks inside and around the town.
"The Russians are actively pressing ground attacks, sometimes using armoured vehicles."
Reuters could not verify accounts of fighting from either side.
Avdiivka was briefly seized by Russian-financed separatists who took control of larges stretches of eastern Ukraine in 2014. It has held out since thanks to a considerable extent to fortifications put in place by its Ukrainian defenders.
RUSSIAN DRIVE AROUND BAKHMUT
Russian forces have also been pressing near contested villages surrounding the equally shattered town of Bakhmut, captured by Russian forces in May after months of fighting.
Russia's Defence Ministry on Wednesday announced the capture of Khromove, one such village, but unofficial Ukrainian accounts dispute that claim.
The office of Ukraine's general prosecutor said a Russian attack on the city of Toretsk, south of Bakhmut, had killed one person. Three others were pulled alive from underneath the rubble of a house.
Initial investigation showed Russian forces had dropped two bombs, in the second assault on the town throughout the day.
Ukrainian military analyst Serhiy Hrabskyi said the Russians sought to capitalise on their capture of Bakhmut to advance on at least three cities to the west.
"It is crucial for the enemy to develop things in tactical terms with an eye to possibly advancing on Kostyantynivka, as well as Sloviansk and Kramatorsk," Hrabskyi told Radio NV.
Zelensky doubts if Ukraine ever joins NATO
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky expressed his doubts that Ukraine will ever become a NATO member state.
During his meeting with students in Nikolayev, Zelensky noted that the issue of further perspectives of strengthening of national security will be a priority, but said that he is unsure if Ukraine will ever join NATO.
"We do not know for sure how it will be. […] No one will tell you with certainty, whether we will be in NATO or whether we will not. We want to, but…," he said in a video, published on his Telegram channel.
Meanwhile, Zelensky reiterated that Kiev acts to achieve NATO standards and must do everything to "keep national security at top level."
Liberia and Sierra Leone have a common historical legacy and often tend to imitate each other in war and peace. But events in the last two weeks suggest that while Liberia may be turning a new, refreshing page, Sierra Leone remains trapped in its troubled past.
First, the good news from Liberia, whose capital, Monrovia, was named in honour of America’s fifth president, James Monroe. After one six-year term, President George Weah announced that he was done, even before Liberia’s electoral commission finished counting the votes in the November 17 run-off elections. The football legend didn’t wait for the referee’s final whistle.
He called the leader of the opposition, 78-year-old Joseph Boakai, to congratulate him in an election that finished with a narrow 49.36 percent to 50.64 percent margin that a crooked sitting president could have upturned.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s neighbour, Sierra Leone, is boiling after an attempted coup on Saturday night forced the government of President Julius Maada Bio to impose a nationwide curfew. Some unofficial reports have blamed last June’s shambolic elections as the trigger, threatening the moment of relief that Weah’s gracious concession had offered West and Central Africa, which have been the theatres of nine military coups or attempted power grab in three years.
It would be a huge disservice to allow the mutineers in Freetown or elsewhere on the continent to rain on Weah’s parade. In a region blighted by instability and sit-tight leaders, the Weah moment is a breath of fresh air.
In the last three and a half decades, Liberia suffered two civil wars, 1989-1997 and 1999-2003. In both, about 250,000 persons were killed and more than a million displaced in what have been referred to as Africa’s bloodiest conflicts.
The conflicts, fueled by diamonds, were deeply rooted in the country’s ghastly identity politics. Liberia was one of the four independent African states by 1945; the others being Egypt, Ethiopia and the Union of South Africa.
But it was only independent in name. Liberia was a vassal of the American Firestone Company, the tire and rubber manufacturer that owned plantations there. Like Sierra Leone, Liberia later became home to blacks who worked in these plantations or those repatriated from America.
But that’s not the whole story. The Americo-Liberian elite, a small but powerful group, held economic and political power for over 100 years until they were brutally overthrown in the 1980s by a barely literate master sergeant, Samuel Doe, with the backing of the United States of America.
To the consternation of the US and the shock of the world, Doe ruled with an iron hand, which got more vicious as the years went by. He replaced Americo-Liberian oppression with that of his own Krahn ethnic group. The Gios and Manos in Nimba County were his most horrific victims. They were haunted down and murdered for sport.
It was in these circumstances that Charles Taylor rose up as defender and ethnic champion. Most of his early recruits were from the Nimba County from where he later launched a countrywide rebellion that led to the murder of Doe in 1990 and the wrecking of Liberia with serious destabilising consequences for Sierra Leone and west Africa. Liberia is still struggling with the effects of that brutal war.
Sirleaf Johnson’s presidency from 2006 to 2018, was thought to be Liberia’s best chance at a reset. Weah was determined to launch an earlier presidential bid that may have disrupted Johnson’s presidency.
Regional leaders fearing Liberia’s fragile state, prevailed on him to wait. After watching bands of mostly jobless and potentially vulnerable rural youths fall under the spell of Weah’s star power, Nigeria’s president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, advised the former World Footballer of the Year to suspend his ambition and return to school.
That decision may have been unpleasant then, but it seasoned Weah and prepared him, when he finally took the helm in 2017, to manage the fraught and delicate balance in a country that has suffered some of the worst depredations of Ebola and COVID-19. Over half of the 5.4million population live below the poverty line, a perfect excuse for political instability.
But waiting may have done more for Weah than giving him a chance to return to the classroom. Given the slight margin of defeat in the last elections, for example, had he not grown older and wiser, he might have yielded to the temptation to unleash the capricious hand of the state against Boakai, his relentless second-time challenger. Waiting has also taught Weah to manage Liberia’s cauldron of ethnic politics, its weakest inflexion point. All it would have taken to plunge Liberia into another round of crisis was for Weah to stoke the ethnic fire. He didn’t.
Of course, drugs and corruption were also major election talking points, with the opposition Unity Party mocking Weah whose chief of staff, solicitor general and head of ports authority were reportedly sanctioned by the US on corruption charges in 2022.
A university professor told Al-Jazeera that, “Corruption is an unending story and will influence votes, however the deciding factor will be issues around the economy which affect Liberians directly.”
Yet, the ethnic fault lines in the voting pattern, heightened by politics, also explain the government’s inability to implement the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission since 2009. The country is still deeply divided.
And no one knows this more than Weah, who picked Taylor’s wife as running mate to boost his electoral fortunes among sections of native Liberians. Conceding to Boakai even before counting closed defused tensions and gave the country hope for stability in a blighted region.
Bucking a trend
Weah wasn’t lacking in bad examples to follow. Guinea, Liberia’s northern neighbour, is under military rule, as are nearby Mali and Burkina Faso. Except for late Jerry Rawlings of Ghana who exited at 53, African statesmen hardly retire at 57 or even 75 for that matter. The relics in Cameroon, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea are worth counting.
All it would have required was for Weah to use the familiar playbook: denounce the election, alter the constitution, sack some people in high places as a warning, or just improvise any subterfuge to undermine the elections. And he would be sitting pretty calling the shots and daring the world to remonstrate – knowing he was never the first, and may not be the last.
If he had chosen this path, there is little evidence that the AU or even the ECOWAS would have lost sleep. They were silent when Senegal’s Macky Sall toyed with extending his tenure, before he pulled back from that travesty, which in any case, Cote d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara has managed to get away with.
The regional bodies made all the right noises about coups in Guinea, Niger, Sudan, Gabon and Mali and even threatened military action, only to leave Nigeria’s President and ECOWAS leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, eating his own words.
Weah has chosen a different path, he has done the honorable thing. Even though conceding defeat doesn’t immediately solve Liberia’s deep, underlying problems, it gives the country a good chance to continue the hard work of rebuilding. And just as important, it offers Liberia’s neighbours and the continent as a whole a redeeming example.
** Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP. To read more visit: www.azuishiekwene.com
Here are 15 of their top answers:
1. "They asked me what it was I did every day that took me out of the house… I was going to work."
2. "One of my roommates was a nice enough person, but she didn't really have a grasp on the difference in finances between her and the rest of us. She didn't clean up after herself because she thought that housekeeping would do that, and one week she took off on her own to go to a reptile expo in the next state to buy a really expensive ball python, expecting the rest of us to float her with groceries until she got her next allowance."
3. "She paid for Charmin toilet paper and would bring it in and take it out with her as she went in/out of the bathroom, so the rest of us would have to use generic that was free in the dorms..."
4. "I had a college roommate whose dad was an executive for Nestlé. After a big exposé was published about the company allegedly contributing to child slavery in Africa, she said to me (a Black person descended from slaves), 'Daddy says every big company does that. What's the big deal?' Her delivery was so nonchalant, I almost slapped her."
"Another time, she screamed at her dad for buying her the wrong luxury car for her birthday.
Last I checked, she embarrassed herself (and her family, I'm presuming) on a reality show. This was years ago, but her social media accounts are still deactivated."
5. "My freshman year roommate's family was quite wealthy. When spring break came around, she suggested we all spend it in Hawaii. When I said I couldn't afford the $500 ticket, she gave me a flabbergasted look."
"She couldn't seem to understand that $500 is a lot of money to some people, especially a broke college student."
6. "Early 20s, both of us. Her living on her own was an 'experiment.' She would blow all her grocery money in one go — NOT on groceries — and Mommy and Daddy would give her more, something like $500 total per week on top of paying her rent for her. Her mother would also come over and deep clean her room and bathroom and do her laundry once a week."
"She had a part-time job working at Daddy's company, something like only 20 hours per week filing or whatever, but she would call out and receive zero consequences.
Never touched a dirty dish, never touched a broom, just sat on the couch, drank, watched TV, and shopped all day, every day.
Once the year was up, she moved back in with her parents and would say to anyone listening that living on her own was 'so hard' and that she 'felt the struggle' of other people going through the 'same thing.' REALLY?"
7. "A fraternity brother of mine got all of his clothes dry-cleaned on a weekly basis. I don't think he knew how to do a load of laundry."
8. "In college, all freshmen had to live in the dorms, so there were some pretty wealthy students who would probably have otherwise lived in swanky apartments or houses. My roommate got upset with her father when he told her he would be sending a town car to pick her up and take her to the airport. She wanted a limo."
"I, on the other hand, couldn't afford to go home at all for Thanksgiving, but it never crossed her mind that I would be less than completely sympathetic to her whining."
9. "It was my sister's roommate. The hallway had racks of clothing going down it because she had so many clothes they couldn't all fit in her room. She went shopping and came home with seven pairs of the same boot but in different colors because she couldn't pick between them."
10. "My first year of college after taking a gap year, my three roommates and I were 19–20. One girl came from a very well-off family, who lived only about a half hour from the college. They were paying for her tuition and residence fees. Her closet was literally to the point where she had to wrestle to hang anything in it because it was so full. Her mom used to come visit every other weekend or so, and would show up saying, 'I went to the mall, and I didn't know what you would want, so I got you these' while unloading huge bags of things from Lululemon, Roots, and other expensive stores. My roommate would yell and swear at her mom for getting her the 'wrong color' of something."
"She would then shove the new clothes to the back of her closet and either never look at them again or try to sell them online.
The rest of us were struggling to afford groceries lmao."
11. "My college roommate didn't know how to clean things. She had housekeepers growing up and never learned. She thought cleaning the bathroom was dousing it in chemicals and then shutting the door."
12. "Back when I was 17, I had a (slightly older) roommate who was overall a nice person, who just happened to spend absurd amounts of money while the rest of us were working while in school (scholarship) just to buy the necessities. However, one time that blew my mind was when they bought their mom a $2,000 purse and then complained that they just didn't know what to do with it after finding out their mom already had the exact same one."
13. "My freshman year roommate was apparently very wealthy. On the first day I met her, she informed me that she would be able to live the rest of her life off of the interest on the inheritance she already had from her grandfather and that she would get the other half once she graduated college (with any degree at all). Her motto was 'C's get degrees.'"
"There was the obvious chronic spending (she had a big thing for lights and lamps), but even worse, she brought a boy back to our room who found and ripped off both our credit cards. Mine was actually my parents that they had given me for emergencies. We figured out mine had been stolen after one $50 charge popped up, and my parents shut it down. Her family didn't figure it out until over $15,000 had been charged to her card."
14. "Freshman year of college, my roommate complained about how her parents were mad she'd spent $500 in two weeks on food delivery…while on an unlimited meal swipes plan that let her get into the food hall that had food out from 5:00 a.m. to midnight."
"Same roommate would wear Gucci and Hermes to frat parties. Conversely, I was on a scholarship and had panic attacks about not getting financial aid for the next year."
15. And finally: "The weirdest thing about living with a wealthy roommate is how often she would remind me or tell me she was wealthy. Like, at least a few times a week, she casually brought up, 'Well, my family is wealthy/has money, etc.'"
"As a 20-year-old, I didn't think it was that weird or rude, like I do now. I just thought, 'Wow, wealthy people are really out of touch.'"
Some entries have been edited for length/clarity.
Federal government has pegged Nigeria’s budget deficit for the 2024 fiscal year at N9.18 trillion.
Speaking on Wednesday during the presentation of the proposed N27 trillion 2024 budget at the national assembly, President Bola Tinubu said the deficit represents 3.88 percent of Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The president said the N9.18 trillion deficit is lower than the “N13.78 trillion naira deficit recorded in 2023 which represents 6.11 percent of GDP”.
“The deficit will be financed by new borrowings totalling 7.83 trillion naira, 298.49 billion naira from Privatization Proceeds and 1.05 trillion naira drawdown on multilateral and bilateral loans secured for specific development projects,” he said.
Tinubu said the government also projected that inflation will moderate to 21.4 percent in 2024, noting that the country is currently reviewing its tax and fiscal policies.
“Our target is to increase the ratio of revenue to GDP from less than 10 percent currently to 18 percent within the term of this administration,” he said.
The president said the country is also exploring public-private partnership arrangements to finance critical infrastructure.
He, therefore, invited the private sector to partner “with us to ensure that our fiscal, trade and monetary policies, as well as our developmental programs and projects succeed in unlocking the latent potential of our people and other natural endowments, in line with our national aspirations”.
“To improve the effectiveness of our budget performance, the government will focus on ensuring value for money, greater transparency, and accountability. In this regard, we will work more closely with development partners and the private sector,” he said.
“To address long-standing issues in the education sector, a more sustainable model of funding tertiary education will be implemented, including the student loan scheme scheduled to become operational by January 2024.”
In addition, Tinubu promised that efforts would be made to further contain financial leakages through the effective implementation of key public financial management reforms.
He said the top priorities of the ‘2024 Budget of Renewed Hope’, include national defence and internal security, local job creation and macroeconomic stability.
The president also said the proposed budget prioritises human capital development, with particular attention given to children “because human capital remains the most critical resource for national development”.
The Supreme Court has ruled that both the old and the new naira notes of N200, N500 and N1,000 remain valid legal tenders until further notice.
In a ruling by a seven-man panel led by Inyang Okoro on Wednesday, the apex court ordered the old and the redesigned naira notes to be in circulation beyond December 31, 2023.
The Court made the order following the hearing of the application of the Federal Government moved by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi.
President Bola Tinubu-led administration on November 21, had filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking an extension for the old naira notes to remain as legal tender.
Recall that the apex court had nullified on March 3 the restriction on the use of the old N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes as valid legal tenders by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
The Court held that the old naira notes should be used alongside the redesigned currencies until the end of the year.
In its lead judgment that was prepared and delivered by Emmanuel Agim, the apex court knocked the FG for unilaterally introducing the demonetisation policy through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
It faulted the CBN for embarking on such development without consulting the Council of States, the Federal Executive Council, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, Civil Society Organizations and other relevant stakeholders.
Suspected armed robbers on Wednesday reportedly killed one Taiwo Oyekanmi, said to be a director of finance, at the governor’s office in Ogun state.
A witness said the robbers waylaid the homemade bullion van conveying Oyekanmi after he left a branch of Fidelity Bank in Abeokuta, the state capital.
According to the witness, the victim was ascending the overhead bridge in the Kuto area before the gunmen shot at him and other occupants of the van.
The witness further said the hoodlums used a sledgehammer to break the bullion van’s door and went away with the government’s money.
Reacting to the incident, Abiodun Alamutu, the commissioner of police in Ogun, said the government account officer went to the bank without a police escort.
He said an investigation has been launched into the case, noting that the police had started collecting CCTV footage at the bank shortly before the accountant was killed.
“This afternoon, the accountant, a director of finance with driver and one other person left for Fidelity bank to make some withdrawal, they went homemade bullion van,” the police commissioner said.
“They were supposed to have a police escort, but for certain reasons, the person was permitted to travel to attend to some issues, so consequently he was not part of the movement until today.
“After making the withdrawal, and on their way back to the office, they were accosted. A vehicle blocked them on top of the bridge, five occupants of the vehicle came down, shot at the director and from their vehicle, they brought out a sledgehammer to force the receptacle where the money was kept open and they left with the money.
“The director that was shot was thereafter taken to Ijaye hospital where he eventually gave up the ghost.”
“For our investigation, I have directed the area commander to get to the bank and request the CCTV footage which will give us insight into the vehicle in question and the possibility of identifying the culprits if they ever ventured to step out of the vehicle or maybe they just maintained their position in the vehicle.”
Police situation report has it that the late official withdrew N97.335m from Fidelity Bank and N15m from Sterling Bank, both totaling N112.335m cash.
Equinor said on Wednesday it had agreed to sell its Nigerian business, including the company's share in the Agbami oil field, to Nigerian-owned Chappal Energies.
Equinor did not reveal the price of the transaction.
"Our business in Nigeria has been very profitable and we expect to book a gain when the deal closes," an Equinor spokesperson said.
The Norwegian group will sell Equinor Nigeria Energy Company (ENEC), which holds a 53.85% ownership in oil and gas lease OML 128, including a 20.21% stake in the Agbami field, operated by Chevron.
Equinor's presence in Nigeria dates back to 1992, the company said in a statement.
"This transaction realises value and is in line with Equinor's strategy to optimise its international oil and gas portfolio and focus on core areas," said Nina Koch, Equinor's senior vice president for Africa operations.
"Chappal Energies is a committed Nigerian-owned energy company with the ambition to develop the assets further, contributing to the Nigerian economy for years to come," she added.
Closing of the transaction is subject to certain conditions including all regulatory and contractual approvals, Equinor said.
Israel releases more Palestinian prisoners on sixth day of Gaza truce after Hamas frees 16 hostages
Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners early Thursday in exchange for 16 hostages freed hours earlier by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza. The releases came on the sixth day of a temporary truce in the Israel-Hamas war.
The latest swap for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under the Gaza truce comes as international mediators raced to seal another extension to allow further exchanges and prolong the halt of Israel’s air and ground offensive.
A bus carrying some of the Palestinian detainees was seen arriving in the West Bank city of Ramallah before dawn. Most prominent among those freed was Ahed Tamimi, a 22-year-old activist who gained worldwide fame in 2017 after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral on social media.
Israeli troops arrested her at her West Bank home on Nov. 6 for “inciting to terrorism” on her Instagram account. Her mother said Tamimi’s account had been hacked.
On each day of the truce, hostages have been traded for Palestinian prisoners, leading to the release of a total of 97 hostages. With the Palestinian prisoners freed early Thursday to number 30, the overall total would be 210 released prisoners.
Hamas released 16 hostages late Wednesday. The Israeli military said a group of 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals had been returned to Israel, where they were being taken to hospitals to be reunited with their families. Earlier, two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate release.
Negotiators were working down to the wire to hammer out details for a further extension of the truce beyond its deadline of early Thursday. The talks appear to be growing tougher as most of the women and children held by Hamas are freed, and the militants are expected to seek greater releases in return for freeing men and soldiers.
International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted three quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis. Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and says it will maintain the truce if Hamas keeps freeing captives.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored on Wednesday that Israel will resume its campaign to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years and orchestrated the deadly attack on Israel that triggered the war.
“After this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted, will Israel return to fighting? So my answer is an unequivocal yes,” he said. “There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end.”
He spoke ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press for further extensions of the truce and hostage releases. Blinken arrived in Israel late Wednesday.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian boys — an 8-year-old and a 15-year-old — during a raid on the town of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said. Security footage showed a group of boys in the street who start to run, except for one who falls to the ground, bleeding.
The Israeli military said its troops fired on people who threw explosives at them but did not specify if it was referring to the boys, who are not seen throwing anything. Separately, the military said its troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants during the raid.
So far, the Israeli onslaught in Gaza seems to have had little effect on Hamas’ rule, evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce the cease-fire among other armed groups, and orchestrate the release of hostages. Hamas leaders, including Yehya Sinwar, have likely relocated to the south.
With Israeli troops holding much of northern Gaza, a ground invasion south will likely bring an escalating cost in Palestinian lives and destruction.
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south. The truce has brought them relief from bombardment, but the days of calm have been taken up in a frenzied rush to obtain supplies to feed their families as aid enters in greater, but still insufficient, amounts.
The United States, Israel’s main ally, has shown greater reticence over the impact of the war in Gaza. The Biden administration has told Israel that if it launches an offensive in the south, it must operate with far greater precision.
ISRAEL’S HOSTAGE DILEMMA
The plight of the captives and shock from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel have galvanized Israeli support for the war. But Netanyahu is under pressure to bring the hostages home and could find it difficult to resume the offensive if there’s a prospect for more releases.
Since the initial truce began on Friday, both sides have been releasing women and children. Israeli officials say Gaza militants still hold around 20 women, who would be released in a few days if the swaps continue at the current rate.
After that, keeping the truce going depends on tougher negotiations over the release of around 126 men Israel says are held captive – including several dozen soldiers.
For men — and especially soldiers — Hamas is expected to push for comparable releases of Palestinian men or prominent detainees, a deal Israel may resist.
An Israeli official involved in hostage negotiations said talks on a further extension for release of civilian males and soldiers were still preliminary, and that a deal would not be considered until all the women and children are out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing.
With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released. Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza.
So far, most of the Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.
Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decades-long military occupation of lands they want for a future state.
The war began with Hamas’ attack, in which it killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants kidnapped some 240 people back into Gaza, including babies, children, women, soldiers, older adults and Thai farm laborers.
Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11 due to the breakdown of services in the north. The ministry says thousands more people are missing and feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
TENSE CALM IN GAZA
For Palestinians in Gaza, the truce’s calm has been overwhelmed by the search for aid and by horror as they see the extent of destruction.
In the north, residents described entire residential blocks as leveled in Gaza City and surrounding areas. The smell of decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings fills the air, said Mohmmed Mattar, a 29-year-old resident of Gaza City who along with other volunteers searches for the dead under rubble or left in the streets.
In the south, the truce has allowed more aid to be delivered from Egypt, up to 200 trucks a day. But aid officials say it is not enough, given that most now depend on outside aid. Overwhelmed U.N.-run shelters house over 1 million displaced people, with many sleeping outside in cold, rainy weather.
At a distribution center in Rafah, large crowds line up daily for bags of flour but supplies run out quickly.
“Every day, we come here … we spend money on transportation to get here, just to go home with nothing,” said one woman in line, Nawal Abu Namous.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said some 111,000 people have respiratory infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under 5 years old.
“We want this war to stop,” said Omar al-Darawi, who works at the overwhelmed Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza.
Russia says it takes Ukrainian village, Ukraine notes increased Russian activity
Russia's military said on Wednesday that its forces had captured a village in a contested area of eastern Ukraine, while Ukrainian officials offered no comment but said Moscow's forces were suffering heavy losses while launching fierce attacks.
Russia's armed forces have focused on eastern Donetsk region after failing at the outset of the 21-month-old conflict to advance on Kyiv. But their progress has been slow.
Ukraine regained large chunks of territory a year ago, but a new counteroffensive launched in June has made only incremental gains in the east and south.
Russia's Defence Ministry said its forces had captured Khromove, a village on the western approaches to Bakhmut, seized in May by Russian forces after months of heavy fighting reduced it to ruins. The village, known to Russians as Artyomovskoe, had a pre-war population of about 1,000.
There was no mention of the villages in official Ukrainian accounts of Wednesday's fighting in an area that Ukrainian forces have been trying to secure for weeks.
Unofficial accounts and bloggers acknowledged that part of the village was held by Russian forces, but dismissed any notion it was fully under Russian control.
Russian forces have also focused efforts since mid-October on seizing the equally devastated town of Avdiivka, seen as a gateway to the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk, 20 km (12 miles) to the east.
Reuters was unable to confirm accounts from either side.
Oleksandr Shtupun, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, said Russian front line shelling and air strikes had doubled following an end to several days of rain.
Shtupun told national television that Russian troops were sending waves of up to 20 armoured vehicles at a time in attempting to move on Ukrainian lines.
"Ukraine's defence forces, in repelling Russian assaults, are destroying a significant amount of armoured military equipment," he said.
He also said Russian forces were trying to move forward further south in Zaporizhzhia region - near two towns on which Ukrainian forces had focused in their counteroffensive - Robotyne, held by Ukraine and Verbove, under Russian control.
Military analyst Serhiy Zgurets, writing on the website of Ukrainian news outlet Espreso TV, said the number of front line combat clashes was at its highest level in a month.
"We can assume that after the end of the main phase of Ukrainian offensive action near Zaporizhzhia, the Russians are trying to seize the initiative," he wrote on the website of Ukrainian media outlet Espreso TV.
"Occupying troops, despite colossal losses, are trying to put pressure on our defences in different sectors."
He noted, in particular, a new Russian attempt to move on the town of Kupiansk, seized by Russian troops in the early days of the war but retaken a year ago by Ukrainian forces. Russian forces, he said, were now within 9 km of the town.
Russian military destroys first Leopard 1A5 tank during special military operation
Russian forces have destroyed the first Leopard 1A5 tank in the course of the special military operation in the Kupyansk area, the Russian defense ministry told TASS.
"The commander of the Battlegroup West has again lauded the successful actions of an anti-tank system crew of the 1st tank army, who destroyed a Leopard 1A5 tank," the ministry quoted Vladimir Lugovoy, deputy commander of the Western Military District.
According to Lugovoy, the tank was trying to break through the defenses of Russian forces but was burnt down. The soldier who hit the tank were awarded with a certificate for 700,000 rubles (7,890 US dollars). Apart from that, they were awarded Orders of Courage and other state awards.
In early November, the German government announced the supply of 25 Leopard 1A5 tanks to Ukraine. It also supplied reconnaissance drones and radars.