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Israel receives list of third group of hostages set for release

People participate in a show of solidarity with hostages being held in the Gaza Strip, at "hostages square" in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday.
Leo Correa
/
AP
People participate in a show of solidarity with hostages being held in the Gaza Strip, at "hostages square" in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday.

Updated November 25, 2023 at 7:32 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel received a list of a third group of hostages that are set to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, a day after Hamas freed 17 captives.

The office of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it had received a list of the hostages due for release. The list is being checked by security officials, according to Agence France-Presse, and families have been informed.

Seven weeks after being seized by Hamas militants during a massive attack on Israel, 13 Israelis and four Thais walked to freedom late Saturday — but not before a last-minute delay nearly scuttled the deal.

The hostages join 13 others already released on the first day of a temporary cease-fire deal between Israel and Islamist militant group. In return, Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners, more than a day after it freed another 39.

After Qatar and Egypt helped resolve a last-minute snag, Hamas said that the hostages-for-prisoners swap it put on hold for several hours was back on track.

The sudden reversal capped hours of uncertainty after the Palestinian militant group pulled back on the exchange deal, alleging that Israel had violated the terms of a temporary cease-fire agreement.

Then, Hamas issued a statement on social media saying it was putting the exchange back in motion after mediation from Egypt and Qatar "conveyed the occupation's (Israel's) commitment to all the conditions stipulated in the agreement."

Israel's military later said it had been informed that the 17 hostages captured by Hamas were released, and that Red Cross representatives had transferred the hostages to Egypt.

In its Oct. 7 attack, Hamas killed around 1,200 people and captured about 240 hostages, according to Israel. The four-day cease-fire agreement announced earlier this week covered the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. In its attack, however, Hamas captured a number of Thai farm laborers and other foreign workers.

According to the Israeli government, the 13 Israeli hostages released include seven children and six adults whose ages range from 3 to 67 years old. Among them are 11 women or girls and two boys.

Qatar says the group of 39 Palestinians released on Sunday are women and children.

Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman, in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), had said earlier that 39 Palestinians would be released in exchange for 13 Israelis, "in addition to 7 foreigners outside the framework of the agreement." The Qatari spokesperson said in a later update that only four foreigners would be released.

On Friday, the first day of the cease-fire, the Palestinian militant group freed 13 Israelis, and — in a surprise move — 10 Thais and one Filipino as well. Israel released 39 Palestinians.

In the on-again, off-again lead up to a resolution on Saturday, senior Hamas leader Osama Hamdan told a Beirut-based satellite news channel that a disagreement over how much aid Israel was allowing into northern Gaza was one sticking point and the reason for the delay. Another, he said, was Israel's firing on Palestinians — an apparent reference to an incident on Friday in which Hamas says two people were killed and 30 wounded by Israeli soldiers.

Israel's military has declined multiple requests for comment on the shooting. The Israeli prime minister's office declined immediate comment, but an Israeli official told NPR that "Israel did not violate the agreement."

"Who knows if they'll ever get out?"

Earlier Saturday, in a plaza in central Tel Aviv that has become known as "hostages square," serving as a gathering place for families and supporters of those held by Hamas, the atmosphere was subdued, but cautiously optimistic before the second group of captives were released.

Yossi Vikovzky, 68, is a founding member of the Nahal Oz kibbutz, where many people were killed by Hamas militants in last month's attack.

"In truth, I feel like everyone here feels," Vikovzky said. "I'm torn. I'm so happy for every person who gets out [of Gaza], but whoever doesn't get out now, who knows if they'll ever get out?"

Among the Israelis who won freedom on Friday is Hanna Katzir, who the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — a militia group that also took part in last month's attack on Israel — had earlier said was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Other Israelis released are eight members of three separate families, including four young children. Five captives, including Katzir, are in their 70s and the oldest is 85.

Hospital officials said the freed hostages were in good physical condition.

As Israeli hostages were being freed and reunited with their families on Friday, there were scenes of celebration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians prisoners were being handed over. An enormous crowd in the heart of Ramallah gathered, chanting pro-Hamas slogans and waved the militant group's green flag.

Israel has said it could extend the temporary truce by up to ten days if Hamas keeps releasing hostages on at an agreed ratio of one Israel for every three Palestinians. Egypt's state information service on Saturday said that Egyptian officials were working with parties involved in the negotiations "to extend the truce period between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, for a day or so."

Israel's military has vowed to resume fighting once the deal expires or breaks down. "At the end of the operational pause, we will return promptly to our operations and offensive in Gaza," military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Saturday.

More than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the conflict and tens of thousands of others wounded, according to the latest figures from Gaza's health ministry.

Officials say not enough food aid is getting through

In Gaza, the pause in fighting has opened the door for the besieged Hamas-controlled territory to receive badly needed food, fuel and other supplies after weeks of bombardment from Israeli warplanes and ground forces. Israel has vowed to crush Hamas. The fighting has displaced nearly half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million people, according to UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency overseeing Palestinians.

Last month, Israel's military warned Gazans living in the northern half of the territory, which includes Gaza City's half-million people, to move to the south or risk being killed during Israeli operations.

The U.N. World Food Program says it has been making daily deliveries of food assistance to territory, reaching more than 700,000 people. "But it is not enough. With the collapse of food systems, humanitarian assistance is becoming the only lifeline. It must be scaled-up and sustained," WFP said in a post on X.

Men carry empty canisters to be filled with cooking gas from a tanker that entered the Palestinian enclave via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, on Saturday.
Said Khatib / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Men carry empty canisters to be filled with cooking gas from a tanker that entered the Palestinian enclave via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, on Saturday.

A spokesperson for Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said Saturday that 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid entered Gaza from Egypt. It said the trucks were carrying food, water, shelter equipment and medical supplies.

The same number of trucks were dispatched to Gaza on Friday, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

OCHA said an additional 61 trucks with food, water and medical supplies reached northern Gaza, which it said was the largest aid delivery to the region since the conflict began. The Palestinian Red Crescent says it was able to deliver the humanitarian aid by convoy to Gaza City and the North Gaza Governorate.

On his second visit to Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General General Philippe Lazzarini said the agency is ready to receive more than 150 trucks a day of aid.

"It is time to remove bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions on UNRWA so that we can expand and accelerate the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance to more than two million people," Lazzarini said.

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Scott Neuman
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.