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Israeli Hostages Released in Ceasefire Swap Amidst Delays and Tensions

As Qatar and Egypt mediate release of Israeli hostages in historic swap, Gaza aid concerns and delays persist.

A vehicle carrying Israeli hostages released by Hamas from the Gaza Strip arrives at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, early on November 26, 2023.

Despite an initial delay, the second round of hostages were released by Hamas on Saturday night.

The group included 13 Israelis and four foreign nationals believed to be Thai, Middle East Eye reported. Israel also began to release 39 Palestinian prisoners in exchange as the second day of a four-day cease-fire concluded.

“After a delay, obstacles to release of prisoners were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian contacts with both sides,” Majed Al Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, tweeted, adding that the hostages were transferred to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Israeli military confirmed to The Associated Press that the hostages reached Israel after midnight local time. The hostages included seven children and six women, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. One of the hostages, a young girl named Emily Hand, was previously believed dead by her father.

The swap appeared to be in danger earlier in the day when Hamas said that Israel had not allowed enough aid to enter northern Gaza, which has taken the brunt of the Israeli military’s force since October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 and taking around 240 hostages. Israel has since killed more than 14,800 Palestinians in Gaza in its response. The two sides have agreed to a four-day cease-fire beginning Friday that will see a total of 50 Hamas-held hostages and 150 Israeli-held Palestinians released.

In explaining the delay, Hamas also said that Israel had not released enough long-serving prisoners.

“This is putting the deal in danger,” said Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, as AP reported.

Sari Bashi, the program director of Human Rights Watch, criticized both sides for the delay.

“Hamas is obligated to release hostages, whether or not aid enters Gaza,” Bashi tweeted. “The Israeli government is obligated to supply Gaza with aid, whether or not hostages are released. Civilians should not be pawns in a deadly standoff between warring parties who flout basic principles of humanity.”

However, Egypt, Qatar, and Hamas later said everything had been resolved and the exchange would go forward, according to AP, sparking great relief from the hostages’ friends and families.

“I was very nervous when I heard about the delay. I thought something would happen,” Zohar, a classmate of 18-year-old Israeli hostage Noga Weiss, told Channel 13 TV, as AP reported. “It was a great relief when I saw her.”

Egypt had also said earlier in the day that it had received “positive signals” from both sides about a possible extension of the cease-fire, Reuters reported. Netanyahu had previously said the pause would extend one day for every extra 10 hostages that Hamas releases.

Hamas said it expected Israel to release six women and 33 teenage boys on the second day of exchanges, AP reported.

One of the prisoners released Saturday was Shorouq Dwayyat, the Palestinian woman who had been held in an Israeli jail the longest, Middle East Eye reported. Dwayyat was first arrested eight years ago when she was 18. Israel claimed she stabbed a settler, which her family denies.

“We send a message to our people in Gaza that we stand by your side and support you,” Duwiyat said upon returning home, as AP reported.

Another woman released by Israel was Israa Jaabis, who was arrested in 2015 with burns covering half her body, according to Middle East Eye. Jaabis’ family said that she was burned when a defective cylinder of cooking gas ignited near a checkpoint, while Israel accused her of attempting a bombing. Israeli forces raided Jaabis’ home ahead of her release, forcing any journalists or distant relatives to leave.

Police also raided the home of Marah Bkeer before her release Friday, Reuters reported.

“There is no real joy, even this little joy we feel as we wait,” her monther, Sawsan Bkeer, told reporters. “We are still afraid to feel happy.”

Dwayyat told reporters that Israel had threatened to re-arrest the released prisoners if they celebrated, according to Middle East Eye.

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