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Hamas releases more Israeli, foreign hostages on second day of Gaza truce

Published 11/24/2023, 06:57 PM
Updated 11/25/2023, 06:37 PM
© Reuters. Hostages released as part of a deal between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas arrive by helicopter at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel, November 24, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Bassam Masoud and Maayan Lubell

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hamas handed over 13 Israeli hostages and four foreigners to the International Committee of the Red Cross on Saturday night, Qatar's foreign ministry said, after a brief disruption earlier to the deal to free captives was overcome with the mediation of Qatar and Egypt.

The Gaza hostage deal was back on track after a temporary delay over a dispute about aid supplies to the north of the besieged enclave.

"13 Israelis and 4 foreigners were received by ICRC and on their way to Rafah," Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman, Majed Al Ansari, said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

TV images showed Red Cross vehicles at Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

A Palestinian official familiar with the diplomacy said Hamas would continue with the four-day truce agreed with Israel, the first break in fighting in seven weeks of war.

Al Ansari earlier said a brief delay and obstacle to the hostage release were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian contacts with both sides, adding that 39 Palestinian civilians were going to be released in exchange.

Among the Israeli hostages, eight were expected to be children and five others women, Al Ansari said, while the Palestinians to be released from Israeli prisons would consist of 33 children and six women.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on the hold-up over the hostage deal, Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said. About 3-1/2 hours after their call, the White House learned from the Qataris that the agreement was back on and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was moving to collect the hostages, Watson added.

The armed wing of Hamas had earlier said it was delaying Saturday's scheduled second round of hostage releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to let aid trucks into northern Gaza.

Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said only 65 of 340 aid trucks that had entered Gaza since Friday had reached northern Gaza, which was "less than half of what Israel agreed on."

Al-Qassam Brigades also said Israel had failed to respect the terms of the Palestinian prisoner releases. Qadura Fares, the Palestinian commissioner for prisoners, said Israel had not released detainees by seniority, as was expected.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a member of Israel's security cabinet, told Channel 13 News that Israel was "abiding by the deal" with Hamas that Qatar had mediated.

Israel has said 50 trucks with food, water, shelter equipment and medical supplies had deployed to northern Gaza under UN supervision, the first significant aid delivery there since the start of the war.

The brief dispute over the truce raised concerns over the smooth implementation of the hostage deal after 13 Israeli women and children were freed by Hamas on Friday. Some 39 Palestinian women and teenagers were released from Israeli jails.

Israeli army spokesperson Olivier Rafowicz told French television Israel was strictly honouring the terms of the truce, and said the military had carried out no attacks or offensive operations in Gaza on Saturday.


A total of 50 hostages are to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian prisoners over four days under the truce, the first halt in fighting since Hamas fighters rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

In response to that attack, Israel has vowed to destroy the Hamas militants who run Gaza, raining bombs and shells on the enclave and launching a ground offensive in the north. To date, some 14,800 people, roughly 40% of them children, have been killed, Palestinian health authorities said on Saturday.

Before the delay to the latest hostage and prisoner exchange, Egypt, which controls the Rafah border crossing through which aid supplies have resumed into southern Gaza, said it had received "positive signals" from all parties over a possible truce extension.

Israel has said the ceasefire could be extended if Hamas continues to release hostages at a rate of at least 10 per day. A Palestinian source has said up to 100 hostages could go free.


The short-lived row over the truce accord's implementation contrasted with scenes of joy earlier in the day as hostages were reunited with their families.

After almost 50 days in captivity in Gaza, nine-year-old Ohad Munder ran down a hospital corridor in Israel into his father's arms, footage released by the hospital showed.

He and three other children released at the same time were in relatively good condition, Gilat Livni, the centre's Director of Paediatrics told reporters.

"They shared experiences, we were up with them until late at night and it was interesting, upsetting and moving," said Livni.

"I dreamt we came home," said another hostage, four-year-old Raz Asher, as she sat in her father's arms on a hospital bed after she and her mother and younger sister were freed. "Now the dream came true," her father, Yoni, replied.

© Reuters. A Red Cross vehicle, as part of a convoy believed to be carrying hostages abducted by Hamas militants during the October 7 attack on Israel, arrives at the Rafah border, amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, in southern Gaza Strip November 25, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

For Palestinians, however, joy at the release of prisoners from Israeli jails had a bitter tinge to it. Israeli police were seen raiding the home of Sawsan Bkeer on Friday shortly before her daughter Marah, 24, was released. Israeli police declined to comment.

"There is no real joy, even this little joy we feel as we wait," said Sawsan Bkeer. "We are still afraid to feel happy," she said.

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