More hostages and Palestinian prisoners are to be exchanged by Hamas

Thai workers sit at the front and mingle with the superior Israeli hostages
Thai workers sit at the front and mingle with the superior Israeli hostages Photo Credit - Israel Defense Forces

Gaza Strip — As part of a four-day cease-fire that has brought relief to war-weary civilians and allowed vital humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Israel are exchanging hostages and prisoners on Saturday, the second day of the truce.

The details of the swap are still unclear, but according to Egyptian officials who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to disclose information, Hamas has given Egypt and Qatar a list of 14 hostages to be released by Israel, in return for 39 Palestinian prisoners. The head of Egypt’s government press office and the state-run Qahera news outlet confirmed that 13 hostages and 39 prisoners would be exchanged.

On Friday, the first day of the truce, Hamas released 24 of the about 240 hostages it captured during its Oct. 7 raid on Israel that sparked the war, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from jail. Among those released in Gaza were 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino.

The truce agreement stipulates that Hamas will release one Israeli hostage for every three prisoners freed by Israel. Israel’s Prison Service said it was preparing 42 prisoners for release on Saturday. It is not known how many non-Israeli hostages may also be freed.

By the end of the truce, Hamas is expected to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners, all women and minors.

Israel has said it is willing to extend the truce by one day for every 10 additional hostages released — a prospect that U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed.

Meanwhile, a Qatari delegation arrived in Israel on Saturday to coordinate with the parties involved and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The truce, which began Friday morning, has brought calm to 2.3 million Palestinians who have endured seven weeks of relentless Israeli airstrikes that have killed thousands, displaced three-quarters of the population and destroyed residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel has also stopped.

Emad Abu Hajer, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza City area, used the pause to resume his search for his relatives in the rubble of his home, which was hit by an Israeli attack last week.

He found the bodies of a cousin and nephew, raising the death toll in the attack to 19. He continued his digging on Saturday, hoping to find his sister and two other relatives who are still missing.

“We want to find them and bury them in dignity,” he said.

The United Nations said the truce has enabled it to increase the delivery of food, water, and medicine to the highest level since Oct. 21, when it resumed its aid convoys. It also delivered 129,000 liters (34,078 gallons) of fuel — about 10% of the daily pre-war volume — and cooking gas, for the first time since the war started.

In Khan Younis, a southern city, people lined up outside a filling station with their containers on Saturday. Hossam Fayad wished the truce would last longer than four days.

“I wish it could be extended until people’s conditions improved,” he said.

For the first time in more than a month, aid reached northern Gaza, where Israel launched its ground offensive. The Palestinian Red Crescent said it sent 61 trucks with food, water and medical supplies there on Saturday, the largest aid convoy to reach the area since the war began.

The U.N. and the Palestinian Red Crescent also managed to transfer 40 patients and their relatives from a Gaza City hospital, where intense fighting has occurred, to a safer facility in Khan Younis.

However, the cease-fire has not brought complete satisfaction to either side. Israelis are disappointed that some hostages remain captive, while Palestinians are concerned that the truce is too short.