Truce in Gaza, prisoner exchange back on track after hour-long delay

Ramallah, Nov 27.- The tense cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to be back on track early Sunday after the release of a second group of militant-held hostages and Palestinians from Israeli prisons, but the swap followed an hourslong delay that underscored the truce’s fragility.

In a separate development, Hamas announced Sunday that one of its top commanders had been killed, without saying when or how.

The exchange was delayed Saturday evening after Hamas accused Israel of violating the agreement, which has brought the first significant pause in seven weeks of war marked by the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades, vast destruction and displacement across the Gaza Strip, and a hostage crisis that has shaken Israel.

Qatar and Egypt, which mediate with Hamas, announced late Saturday that the obstacles to the exchange had been overcome. The militants released 13 Israelis and four Thais, while Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners.

Thousands of people gathered in central Tel Aviv late Saturday to call for the release of all the estimated 240 people captured by Hamas in its Oct. 7 rampage across southern Israel, which ignited the war. They accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not doing enough to bring them back.

Pressure from the hostages’ families has sharpened the dilemma facing the country’s leaders, who seek to eliminate Hamas as a military and governing power while returning all the captives.

The war has already claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, roughly two thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The four-day cease-fire, which began Friday, was brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States. Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners. All are women and minors.

Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed, but has vowed to quickly resume its offensive once it ends.

Hamas released a video showing the hostages appearing shaken but mostly in good physical condition as masked militants led them to Red Cross vehicles. Some of the hostages waved goodbye to the militants. One girl was on crutches and wore a cast on her left foot.

The Israeli hostages freed on Saturday included seven children and six women, ranging from 3 to 67. Most were from Kibbutz Be’eri, a community Hamas militants ravaged during their Oct. 7 attack. All the released hostages either had a family member killed in the attack or a loved one still in captivity in Gaza, a kibbutz spokesperson said.

The Palestinians who were released included at least two women who had been given long sentences after being convicted by Israeli courts of violent attacks. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes resisting occupation.

In the West Bank town of Al-Bireh, newly released teenage boys were paraded through the main square where they waved Palestinian flags as well as green banners of Hamas and yellow banners of the rival Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

The war in Gaza has been accompanied by a surge in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian health authorities said early Sunday that five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin that began the day before.

The military said it had arrested a suspect in the killing of an Israeli father and son at a car wash in the West Bank earlier this year. The army has conducted frequent military raids and arrested hundreds of Palestinians since the start of the war, mostly people it suspects of being Hamas members. (Taken from Prensa Latina)