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Hamas confirms second release of hostages to go ahead

By AFP - Nov 26,2023 - Last updated at Nov 26,2023

An image grab from a handout video released by the Hamas Media Office shows a member of its Al Qassam Brigades helping a hostage out of a car before handing them over to officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza on Friday, ahead of their transfer to Israel (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Hamas confirmed on Saturday that the second release under a truce agreement of Israeli hostages captured in the October 7 surprise attacks will go ahead after a delay.

Hamas had "responded positively" to Egyptian and Qatari mediators to ensure the continuation of the truce agreement, it said in a statement, after they relayed a promise by Israel to "uphold all the conditions of the accord".

The armed wing of Hamas said earlier Saturday it was delaying the handover of a second group of hostages due to be released under a truce deal until Israel "adheres to the terms of the agreement".

The entry of humanitarian aid to the north of the Gaza Strip and the selection criteria for the liberation of prisoners were the issues in question, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades said in a statement.

The group of hostages seized in the Hamas surprise attacks on southern Israel on October 7 was due to be handed over on the second day of a four-day truce agreement between Israel and the Islamist movement, with Palestinian prisoners being released in exchange at a ration of three to one.

A Hamas source had told AFP that the handover of 14 hostages to the Red Cross had begun, then said the transfer process had been halted.

An Israeli official said the hostages had not yet been handed over to the Red Cross.

“Israel has not violated the agreement,” an Israeli source told AFP.

A two-minute video released by Hamas showed masked fighters with rifles, wearing military fatigues and the green headband of its armed wing, as they handed the hostages over to Red Cross officials

Israel in turn freed 39 women and children from its prisons.

“It’s only a start, but so far it’s gone well,” US President Joe Biden told reporters in Massachusetts, where he was spending the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I think the chances are real” for extending the truce, he said.

Biden also urged a broader effort to emerge from the crisis with a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

About 215 hostages remain in Gaza, Israeli army spokesman Doron Spielman said.

“We’re unaware, many of these cases, if they are dead or alive. We’re trying to collect intelligence,” he said.

Hamas fighters snatched the captives when they broke through Gaza’s militarised border with Israel on October 7. Israel launched an air, artillery and naval offensive to destroy Hamas, killing about 15,000 people, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.

Hamas was expected to free 50 hostages during the ceasefire in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, part of an agreement struck after talks involving Israel, Palestinian groups, Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Among the freed hostages, four children and four women were admitted to Schneider Children’s Medical Centre.

Thailand’s government said it estimated another 20 citizens were still being held by Hamas. “We sincerely hope that the remaining hostages will be treated humanely,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

On the other side, Palestinians cheered the return of prisoners from Israeli jails.

Of the 39 prisoners freed by Israel on Friday, 28 were released in the occupied West Bank, an AFP correspondent reported, while the other 11 were brought to annexed east Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.

Crowds of Palestinians in the West Bank set off firecrackers, waved flags and whistled as two white coaches ferried prisoners out of the Ofer military camp, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

“I spent the end of my childhood and my adolescence in prison, far from my parents and their hugs,” freed prisoner Marah Bakir, 24, told AFP after returning to her home in occupied East Jerusalem.

“That’s how it is with a state that oppresses us.”

Earlier in the evening, Israeli authorities fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. The Palestinian Red Crescent said three people were shot and wounded by Israeli security forces.

“The police are in our house and are stopping people from coming to see us,” said Fatina Salman, whose daughter Malak, now 23, was among those released.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, vowed to bring all the Hamas hostages home.

“This is one of the goals of the war, and we are committed to achieving all the goals of the war,” he said.

 

Humanitarian convoy 

 

The pause in fighting in Gaza opened the way to desperately needed aid.

Trucks carrying supplies, including fuel, food and medicine, began moving into Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt shortly after the truce began at 7:00am (05:00 GMT) on Friday.

Two hundred aid trucks in total passed through, the biggest humanitarian convoy to enter the besieged territory since the war started, according to the Israeli defence ministry body that handles Palestinian civil affairs.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for UN humanitarian agency OCHA, expressed hope that the pause would lead “to a longer-term humanitarian ceasefire”.

Gazans have struggled to survive with shortages of water and other essentials.

The ceasefire also sparked a mass movement of thousands of people who had sought refuge in schools and hospitals from relentless Israeli bombardment.

The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis, where many Palestinians fled, a cacophony of car horns and ambulance sirens replaced the sound of war.

People loaded belongings onto carts, strapped them to car roofs, or slung bags over their shoulders, crowding streets to return to their homes from temporary shelters.

Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people that the war is not over and it is “very dangerous” to return north, the focus of Israel’s military campaign.

Several thousand Palestinians nevertheless attempted to move north on Friday, the UN humanitarian affairs organisation said.

 

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