Hamas releases 13 Israeli, four Thai captives after hours-long delay

Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners, six women and 33 children, from its jails under the Qatar-mediated truce.

two white vehicles with red crosses on the door against a dark sky
Red Cross vehicles reportedly carrying hostages released by Hamas driving towards the Rafah border point with Egypt ahead of their transfer to Israel [AFPTV/AFP]

Hamas has handed over 13 Israeli captives and four Thai nationals to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after a delay of seven hours as the group claimed that Israel had violated the terms of a truce.

The impasse was resolved following mediation by Qatar and Egypt on Saturday, the second day of the pause in hostilities in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Israel released a second batch of 39 Palestinians – six women and 33 children – from two prisons, the Palestinian news agency WAFA said on Saturday.

A third phase of the exchange of Israeli captives and Palestinian prisoners under the truce deal is expected later on Sunday.

Ghazi Hamad, member of Hamas’s political bureau, told Al Jazeera that his group was committed to the four-day truce agreement and is willing to release all captives in exchange for the release of all Palestinian prisoners.

Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a post on X that 13 Israelis and four foreign nationals had been handed over to the ICRC. They were on their way to the Rafah border crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt before travelling to Israel.

The 17 captives had arrived in Israel, the Israeli Army posted on X.

“After undergoing an initial medical assessment, they will continue to be accompanied by IDF [Israeli Army] soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families,” it said.

Al Jazeera’s Hamdah Salhut, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said that the 17 released were “taken to an airbase in southern Israel for an initial check where they will then be flown to several different hospitals throughout the Tel Aviv area for additional medical and psychological checks”.

The Israeli captives included six adult women and seven children and teenagers, according to a statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office. The hostages were released after spending 50 days in captivity, it said.

Delay in handover

Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan had said earlier that the aid deliveries permitted by Israel had fallen short of what had been promised and were not reaching northern Gaza, which was the target of Israel’s offensive.

Only 65 of 340 aid trucks that had entered Gaza since Friday had reached northern Gaza, which was “less than half of what Israel agreed on”, Hamdan said from Beirut.

Israel has said 50 trucks with food, water, shelter equipment and medical supplies had deployed to northern Gaza under United Nations supervision, the first significant aid delivery there since the start of the war seven weeks ago.

The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, earlier said Israel had failed to respect the terms of the Palestinian prisoner release.

Qadura Fares, the Palestinian commissioner for prisoners, said Israel had not released detainees by seniority, as was expected.

The row over the second swap of captives for prisoners quashed hopes after 13 Israeli women and children were freed by Hamas on Friday. Ten Thai nationals and one citizen from the Philippines were freed as part of a separate agreement, and 39 Palestinian women and children were released from Israeli jails.

Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the government was committed to complying with the truce agreement with Hamas but that there were many parties and factors involved. “And every day brings with it its complexities,” he added.

On Sunday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian farmer in Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent said, amid concerns of truce violations by Israel.

A large number of displaced people were trying to return home across Gaza as the four-day truce brokered by Qatar took effect on Friday. However, Israel has warned people that they will not be allowed to enter the north of the war-torn enclave.

‘Joy is resistance too’

Some of the Palestinians arrived at Al-Bireh Municipality Square in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where thousands of citizens awaited them, a Reuters journalist said.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from the occupied West Bank, said Israeli drones dropped tear gas on the Palestinians gathered outside the Ofer prison in Beitunia.

Safaa Merie, who was among hundreds of people who gathered to receive the prisoners in Beitunia, told Al Jazeera she was waiting for a 14-year-old boy on behalf of his family members from Jenin, a city in the north of the occupied West Bank.

“Because of the military checkpoints by the Israelis, it’s very difficult to come here, almost impossible,” she told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t know him but we are all here to welcome all the prisoners.”

Manal Tamimi told Al Jazeera in el-Bireh, also in the occupied West Bank, that she was waiting for her teenage nephew Wisam to be released after seven months.

“Our brothers and sisters in Gaza – our hearts are bleeding for them,” she said.

“But we believe that joy is resistance too and [we should not] let the occupier break us, break our happiness.”

Truce extension?

Before the snag in the latest hostages-to-prisoners exchange, Egypt, which controls the Rafah border crossing through which aid supplies have resumed into southern Gaza, said it had received “positive signals” from all parties over a possible extension to the pause in fighting.

Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS), said in a statement that Cairo was holding extensive talks with all parties to reach an agreement that would mean “the release of more detainees in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails”.

Israel has said the truce could be extended if Hamas continues to release hostages at a rate of at least 10 per day. A Palestinian source has said up to 100 hostages could go free.

For now, 50 of about 240 hostages are to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian prisoners over four days under the truce, the first halt in fighting since Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people.

Israel has pledged to destroy Hamas, raining bombs and shells on the enclave and launching a ground offensive in the north. Israel’s relentless bombardment has killed more than 14,800 people, roughly 40 percent of them children, Palestinian health authorities said on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies