Hamas and Israel swap hostages and prisoners after stand-off resolved


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Hamas is expected to release at least a dozen more hostages who are being held in the Gaza Strip on Saturday as a four-day truce stretches into its second day.

Israel and Hamas conducted the first exchange on Friday evening. Hamas freed 13 Israelis, 10 Thai nationals and a Filipino while Israel released 39 Palestinians, mostly women and teenage boys, from prison.

An official briefed on the negotiations said 13 or 14 more hostages were set to be freed on Saturday. Israeli media reported that the Israeli Prison Service was preparing to release 42 Palestinian prisoners, once the hostages were returned.

The release of the first batch of hostages triggered cautious optimism in Israel, as social media channels flooded with images of emotional family reunions in hospital corridors. But the relatives of at least 200 remaining hostages vowed to maintain the pressure until their loved ones were returned.

Israeli hostages Aviv and Raz Asher and their mother Doron greet their father Yoni after being released on Friday © via REUTERS

Under the truce agreement brokered by Qatar, the US and Egypt, Hamas will free 50 Israeli civilians held in Gaza in staggered groups over the four-day period, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and substantial aid deliveries to the besieged Gaza strip.

A team of Qatari officials flew into Tel Aviv on Saturday to co-ordinate with parties and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly and to discuss further details of the ongoing deal”, a diplomat said.

Iran-supported Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups are still holding more than 200 people in Gaza, including elderly people and Israeli soldiers, after its fighters launched a savage assault on communities in southern Israel on October 7. Israeli officials said about 1,200 people were killed in the worst attack in the Jewish state’s history.

The Hamas assault triggered a ferocious Israeli military response, including a ground invasion. After six weeks of bombardment in which Palestinian officials say at least 13,300 people have been killed and 1.7mn forced to flee their homes, the temporary truce has given Gazans a brief respite.

The UN said 200 trucks carrying aid were dispatched to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, although only 137 entered the enclave on Friday. In addition, 129,000 litres of fuel were delivered. It was the biggest aid delivery into Gaza since Israel laid siege to the Hamas-controlled strip, which is home to 2.3mn people.

Palestinians walk past buildings destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza as the pause in fighting held for a second day © AP

The pause in fighting comes as pressure mounts on Israel from allies over the human cost of the war. David Cameron, the UK foreign minister, told the BBC on Friday that “the number of casualties is too high”.

Assaf Orion, former head of a strategic division at the Israeli Defence Force, said that while “Israel has its own interests to decrease the damage to civilian population as collateral . . . at the same time we cannot keep on being, I would say, overcautious and trying to go above and beyond, to do our best in this as we used in the past”.

Violence continued in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, where clashes during a raid by Israeli soldiers killed Shamekh Kamal Abu Al-Rad, a 25-year-old doctor, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. The IDF said it was “aware of the claims” and was reviewing the incident.

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