Hamas and Israel exchange more hostages and detainees as temporary truce holds

Thirteen hostages released from Gaza in return for 39 Palestinian detainees

Freed Palestinian detainees receive a hero's welcome back home

Freed Palestinian detainees receive a hero's welcome back home
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Hamas has released another group of hostages from Gaza on Saturday, the second day of a four-day truce with Israel.

Thirteen Israelis and four Thai nationals were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross and driven across the border into Israel shortly after midnight.

Israel freed 39 Palestinian detainees later as part of the deal that ultimately went through after international mediation efforts.

The Israeli hostages released included seven children and six women, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

The exchange was delayed by several hours after Hamas claimed Israel had failed to abide by the terms of the truce by not allowing aid to move into northern Gaza.

However, mediators from Egypt and Qatar helped rescue the deal allowing the hostages to be taken through the Rafah crossing with Egypt as planned.

They were then taken to hospitals for observation and to be reunited with their families.

The first exchange on Friday involved the release of 13 Israeli hostages, as well as 10 Thai citizens and one Filipino who were seized by Hamas on October 7.

The hostages were taken from Gaza into Egypt over the Rafah border crossing. They were met by Israeli security forces and taken to be reunited with their families in Israel.

Once the Israeli hostages reached Israel and passed medical tests, 39 Palestinian detainees – 24 women and 15 children – left Ofer prison, in the occupied West Bank.

One of those freed said she felt uncomfortable at the price of her release.

“This deal comes following the death of many people and this makes us unhappy and uncomfortable,” said Marah Bakir, who was held in an Israeli jail for eight years.

She said she had “no idea what was happening outside, no idea about the situation in Gaza”.

“The news of the deal was a surprise,” she added.

The women and children released from Gaza included Doron Katz-Asher, 34, and her two daughters, Raz, four, and Aviv, two, who were seized from Kibbutz Nir Oz, near the border with Gaza.

Ms Katz-Asher's husband, Yoni Katz-Asher, said he would not celebrate until all the remaining hostages returned home. About 240 people were abducted on October 7.

“I am determined to help my family recover from the terrible trauma and loss we went through, for my daughters and my wife's future. Difficult days are still ahead of me,” he said.

Thai authorities said Hamas was still holding 20 Thai citizens in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden on Friday said the release of some hostages was a “start of a process” and the result of “extensive diplomacy”.

“Today has been a product a lot of hard work and weeks of personal engagement,” Mr Biden said from Nantucket, Massachusetts.

He added that he expected the nine US citizens held in Gaza to return home safely.

Both transfers were co-ordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has helped to mediate between Hamas and Israel.

“The situation in Gaza is beyond critical and we continue our role as a neutral intermediary while also reminding of the need for humanitarian aid for the millions in Gaza,” ICRC regional media relations adviser Jessica Moussan told The National.

The hostage deal was agreed on as part of a four-day temporary truce in Gaza, which passed with “no major incident recorded” as of Friday night, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

However, Israeli soldiers fired into a crowd to prevent Palestinians moving from southern Gaza to the north, it said.

There were no air strikes or violence between soldiers and militants, in line with the agreement.

Martin Griffiths, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, expressed hope that “this first day of the humanitarian pause is followed by many others”.

He said he wanted the deal to lead “to a longer-term humanitarian ceasefire – for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond”.

The pause has allowed the UN to increase deliveries of aid into Gaza, OCHA said.

On Friday, 200 aid lorries travelled from Nitzana in Israel to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza and 137 lorries carrying goods reached the UN reception point in Gaza.

It was the largest volume of aid to enter the enclave since the humanitarian deliveries resumed on October 21.

Lorries carrying 129,000 litres of fuel and four loaded with cooking gas also crossed into Gaza.

Updated: November 26, 2023, 4:23 AM