More hostages released by Hamas despite agonising delay

A second group of Israeli hostages left Hamas captivity on Saturday, after hours of delay had increased the anxiety of desperate families.

The Israeli military said 13 Israelis were released in Gaza and in exchange 39 more Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel in the West Bank. Hamas also released four Thai hostages.

The first releases took place smoothly on Friday, under a temporary four-day truce deal brokered by Qatar.

Urgent talks saved Saturday’s handover.

The Israelis had been expected to be handed over to the Red Cross on Gaza’s border with Egypt at 16:00 (14:00 GMT).

The Hamas armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said there were issues over the delivery of aid to northern Gaza and the selection criteria for Palestinian prisoners being exchanged for captives held by Hamas. Israel denied violating the terms of the deal.

Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said a total of 340 aid trucks had gone into Gaza since Friday, but only 65 had reached northern Gaza – which he said was less than half of what Israel had agreed on. Israel describes the north as a war zone and says the UN is responsible for delivering the aid.

Later a senior Palestinian official close to the talks confirmed Qatar’s statement that the dispute had been resolved.

And Hamas voiced “appreciation towards Egypt and Qatar for ensuring the continuation of their temporary truce with Israel”.

Under the deal, 50 Israeli hostages – women and children – are to be freed by Hamas over four days, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners.

The Israeli government says the truce could be extended if at least 10 Israelis are released daily – but it has also vowed to wipe out Hamas and insists the deal is only temporary.

Hamas kidnapped about 240 people when it raided southern Israel on 7 October, and killed 1,200, most of them civilians, Israel says.

The Iran-backed Islamist group is categorised as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK, the US and the European Union.

In retaliation for the 7 October attack Israel has bombed Gaza relentlessly, wrecking its infrastructure.

Hamas says nearly 15,000 people have died, including many children. Large supplies of aid – notably food, water and hygiene kits – are desperately needed.

On Saturday evening some 50,000 people rallied in central Tel Aviv with the slogan “Bring them back home” on posters and t-shirts, hoping that the fragile truce would hold.

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Moment nine-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage is reunited with her father

Two of the Israeli hostages who were released late on Saturday were siblings Noam and Alma Or, 17 and 13 respectively. In the 7 October attacks, they were seen by a neighbour being dragged out of their home in Kibbutz Be’eri, along with their father, according to their nephew. Their father has not been released.

Their mother was killed in the attack, but the teenagers did not know this, their uncle, Ahal Besorai, told the BBC.

“We had to bring the sad news to them,” he said.

Dr Shoshan Haran, 67, was also kidnapped from Be’eri and released on Saturday. She is the founder of a not-for-profit organisation to help feed those in poverty and has a PhD in agronomy. She was freed along with her daughter Adi Shoham, 38, and her children, Nave, eight, and Yahel, three.

Also released were Sharon Avigdori, 52, a drama therapist, and her daughter Noam, 12, who are relatives of Dr Haran and were kidnapped from Be’eri at the same time.

Another child who was released yesterday is Emily Hand, who turned nine while in captivity. The Irish-Israeli girl had been held hostage without any of her family with her.

Emily’s father, Tom Hand, who was originally told Emily had been killed, told the BBC that he was determined to keep doing everything he could to help bring the other hostages home.

Media caption,

Crowds cheer Palestinians prisoners released from Israeli jail

Palestinians released from Israeli prisons

Most of the 39 Palestinians released by Israel on Friday – 24 women and 15 teenage boys – were in pre-trial detention.

One of them, Sarah al-Suwaisa, said the Israelis had fired teargas and cut off the prisoners’ electricity before the release. She called it “humiliating, psychological torture” and said “only Hamas helped us”.

A crowd gathered again in Beitunia on Saturday to receive more released Palestinians – women and teenagers who were held at Ofer prison. Many green Hamas flags were displayed there, the BBC’s Lucy Williamson reports.

Among those freed was Nourhan Awad, 23, who was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of being involved in a stabbing operation in Jerusalem. She served eight of the 10 years she was sentenced to.

Israa Jaabis had also been in prison since 2015 after her car broke down on a highway 1.5km (0.9 miles) from a checkpoint in the West Bank. Israel said at the time that it was an attempted car bombing but this has been disputed.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said that the four Thai nationals released on Saturday were doing well.

“Everybody is safe, on the whole in good mental health and are able to speak normally,” he wrote on social media.