Second group of Hamas-held hostages, Palestinian prisoners released after aid row resolved

  • The second group of Hamas captives and Palestinians held in Israeli jails have been released.
  • Hamas released 13 Israelis and four Thai nations, while Israel released 39 Palestinians held in its prisons.
  • A row over aid threatened to derail the agreement but was eventually resolved.
Thirteen Israeli and four Thai nationals released from Hamas captivity arrived in Israel on Sunday and were set to be reunited with their families as part of a crucial hostage deal, which briefly risked falling apart due to a dispute over aid supplies.
The short-lived row over aid that threatened the temporary truce to free captives was overcome with the mediation of Qatar and Egypt but it underscored the fragility of the agreement, through which a total of 50 Israeli hostages are to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian prisoners over four days.
Television footage showed hostages on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing after leaving Gaza, as Hamas handed over the captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) late on Saturday. Of the 13 Israelis released, six were women and seven were children and teenagers, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

“The released hostages are on their way to hospitals in Israel, where they will reunite with their families,” the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities released 39 Palestinian prisoners, including six women and 33 children, from two prisons as part of the second batch of the exchange deal, Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Al Jazeera TV carried live footage of what it called a Red Cross bus carrying a large number of cheering Palestinian prisoners released from an Israeli prison on its way to Beitunia town, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Palestinian media reported on Sunday that 39 Palestinian prisoners, including six women and 33 children, were released as part of the exchange deal. Source: Getty, AFP / Ahmad Gharabli

A Palestinian official familiar with the diplomacy said Hamas would continue with the four-day truce agreed with Israel, the first halt in fighting since Hamas fighters rampaged through southern Israel on 7 October, 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 per cent of them children, have been killed, Palestinian health authorities said on Saturday.
Saturday’s swap comes after another 13 Israeli hostages including children and the elderly — some with dual nationality, as well as 10 Thais and a Philippine national —in return for 39 Palestinian women and youth released from Israeli prisons.
A Red Cross vehicle carrying Israeli hostages.

Thirteen Israeli and four Thai nationals released from Hamas captivity arrived in Israel on Sunday. Source: AAP, AP / Fatima Shbair

Hamas is a Palestinian military and political group, which has gained power in the Gaza Strip since winning legislative elections there in 2006. Its stated aim is to establish a Palestinian state, while refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Hamas, in its entirety, is designated as a terrorist organisation by countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. New Zealand and Paraguay list only its military wing as a terrorist group.

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly voted against a resolution condemning Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.


Trucks carrying humanitarian aid wait to cross from the southern Gaza Strip into the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday. Source: AAP / Mohammed Saber/EPA

Aid dispute

The deal ran the risk of derailment earlier after the armed wing of Hamas said it was delaying Saturday’s scheduled second round of hostage releases until Israel met all truce conditions, including committing to letting 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.”

The IDF said inside the Gaza Strip, distribution of the aid was implemented by the United Nations and the international organizations.

An injured Palestinian girl on a donkey cart

An injured Palestinian girl lies on a donkey cart after travelling to the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday. Source: AAP / Mohammed Saber/EPA

The United Nations confirmed said 61 trucks of aid were delivered to northern Gaza on Saturday, the largest number since 7 October. They included food, water and emergency medical supplies.

Al-Qassam Brigades also said Israel had failed to respect the terms of the Palestinian prisoner releases and that the Palestinian detainees were not raised by seniority.
Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari on Saturday said there has been “a lot of discussion” on how and whom to prioritise for the releases and on the Palestinian side, a key criterion was the length of time spent in Israeli prisons.

“We are now hopeful that with the second or the third day of this pause, we would be able to hash out a lot of these details that made this day so difficult,” he told CNN.


Palestinians walk after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip to the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday. Source: AAP / Mohammed Saber/EPA

Ensuring that the deal did not collapse took a day of high-stakes diplomacy mediated by Qatar and Egypt, a process in which United States President Joe Biden also participated by calling Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

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.

Source link