- Adds details in paragraphs 2, 4, 13, 26
- The latest developments:
- 13 Israeli hostages and four Thais return to Israel
- Egypt and Qatar help defuse aid dispute that threatened agreement
- TV programs: A bus carrying liberated Palestinians in the West Bank
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Thirteen Israelis and four Thais arrived in Israel on Sunday in the second release of Hamas hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in a deal that was briefly jeopardized by a dispute over aid deliveries to Gaza.
Although the dispute that threatened the truce to release prisoners was overcome by mediation from Egypt and Qatar, the dispute highlighted the fragility of the agreement to exchange 50 hostages held by the Palestinian movement in exchange for 150 prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Television footage showed hostages on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing after leaving Gaza, while Hamas handed over the captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross late on Saturday evening.
Of the thirteen released Israelis, six were women and seven were teenagers or children. The youngest is three-year-old Yahel Shoham, who was released with her mother and brother, although her father remains a hostage.
The Israeli army said in a statement, “The released hostages are on their way to hospitals in Israel, where they will reunite with their families.”
The Palestinian News Agency (Wafa) said that Israel released 39 Palestinians, including six women and 33 minors, from two prisons.
A witness from Reuters said that some Palestinians arrived at Al-Bireh Municipality Square in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where thousands of citizens were waiting for them.
A Palestinian official familiar with the diplomatic moves said Hamas would continue the truce, the first cessation of fighting since Hamas fighters invaded southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostage.
In response to this attack, Israel vowed to destroy the Hamas fighters running Gaza, raining bombs and missiles on the Strip and launching a ground offensive in the north. Palestinian health authorities said on Saturday that about 14,800 people, about 40% of them children, had been killed.
Saturday’s exchange comes in the wake of Hamas’s release the previous day of 13 Israeli hostages, including children and the elderly, in exchange for the release of 39 Palestinian women and teenagers from Israeli prisons.
On Friday, Hamas also released a Filipino citizen and 10 Thai agricultural workers.
Thai Prime Minister Srita Thavisin said on the social media platform X that the four Thais who were released on Saturday “want to take a shower and contact their relatives,” adding that everyone was fine and showed only minor effects.
The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday that 18 Thais were still detained, a toll that reflects two kidnappings that were not previously known.
“I am very happy, I am very happy, I cannot describe my feeling at all,” Thongkun Onkayo told Reuters by phone after news of the release of her son, Nattaporn, 26, the family’s sole breadwinner.
How to prioritize releases
The agreement threatened to be derailed when Hamas’ military wing said on Saturday that it would postpone the releases until Israel met all the conditions of the truce, including a commitment to allow aid trucks into northern Gaza.
Salvaging the deal took a day of high-stakes diplomacy mediated by Qatar and Egypt, a process joined by US President Joe Biden, who called Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said that only 65 of the 340 aid trucks that had entered Gaza since Friday had reached northern Gaza, or “less than half of what Israel agreed to.”
The Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, said that Israel failed to respect the conditions for the release of Palestinian prisoners that take into account the length of their detention.
The Israeli army said that the United Nations and international organizations are distributing aid inside the Gaza Strip. The United Nations said that 61 trucks delivered aid to northern Gaza on Saturday, the largest number since the war began seven weeks ago. It included food, water and emergency medical supplies.
Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said that there had been “a lot of discussion” about how to prioritize his release, and that the main criterion for the Palestinian side was the length of time he would spend in Israeli prisons.
“We hope now that by the second or third day of this pause, we will be able to discuss a lot of these details,” he told CNN.
Israel said the ceasefire may be extended if Hamas continues to release at least 10 hostages daily. A Palestinian source said that up to 100 hostages may be released.
Saturday also witnessed hours of agonizing waiting for the families of the hostages, whose joy was tempered by the continued detention of others.
“My heart is divided because my son Itay is still being held by Hamas in Gaza,” Mirit Regev, the mother of Maya Regev, who was released late Saturday, said in a statement issued by the Forum for Families of Hostages and Missing Persons, which represents the organization. Families.
Aviv Havron, a relative, said waiting for the release of the Shoham family, which left one of its parents hostage in Gaza, was nerve-wracking. “But what is this compared to the fifty days they spent hostage?” The Ynet news website quoted him as saying.
Also released was nine-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand, who was initially feared to have been murdered, but spent her ninth birthday in captivity before being released along with 12-year-old Hila Rotem, whose mother remains in prison. Captivity.
“We are thrilled to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have not yet returned,” the Hand family said in a statement.
The Palestinians’ joy at their release was tinged with bitterness.
One of them, Shorouk Dwayyat, who has served half of her 16-year term, told Al Jazeera: “I feel like I am in a dream, but I hope that the war on Gaza will stop as soon as possible.”
(Reporting by Emily Rose, Bassam Masoud, James McKenzie, Mayan Lobel, Emma Farge, Aidan Lewis, Adam McCary, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Moaz Abdel Aziz – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) (Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Sibylle de la Hamide and Jeff Mason in Nantucket, Massachusetts – Prepared by Muhammad For the Arab Bulletin – Prepared by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah) Writing by Humeira Pamuk. Edited by Leslie Adler, Clarence Fernandez, and William Mallard
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A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.
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