Hamas agreed to release 13 Israelis and seven foreigners late Saturday in exchange for 39 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, Qatari and Egyptian mediators said, after the militant group delayed the second round of swaps for several hours and claimed that Israel had violated the terms of a truce deal.
The last-minute snag had created a tense standoff on the second day of what was meant to be a four-day cease-fire. By nightfall, as the hostages should have emerged from Gaza, Hamas alleged that the aid deliveries permitted by Israel fell short of what was promised and that not enough of the aid was reaching northern Gaza — the focus of Israel’s ground offensive and main combat zone. Hamas also said not enough veteran prisoners were freed in the first swap on Friday.
“This is putting the deal in danger and we have spoken to mediators about that,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said in Beirut. But Egypt, Qatar and Hamas itself later said obstacles had been overcome, and Hamas issued a statement listing six women and 33 boys and teenagers it said were expected to be released by the Israelis.
While uncertainty around the details of the exchange remained, there was some optimism, too, amid earlier scenes of joyous families reuniting on both sides.
On the first day of the four-day ceasefire, Hamas released 24 of the roughly 240 hostages taken during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison. Those freed in Gaza were 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino.
Overall, Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners, during the four-day truce — all woman and minors.
Israel has said the truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed — something U.S. President Joe Biden said he hoped would occur.
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Separately, a Qatari delegation arrived in Israel on Saturday to coordinate with parties on the ground and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly,” according to a diplomat briefed on the visit. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with the media.
The start of the pause brought quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent.
(With inputs from Agencies)