Gaza ceasefire: Hamas says it has handed 20 people to Red Cross after hostage release hold-up

Hamas was expected to release 14 hostages in exchange for Israel freeing 42 Palestinian prisoners on Saturday

Hamas has said it has handed over 20 hostages to the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Red Cross vehicles were later seen crossing into Egypt.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators earlier said Hamas had agreed to release 13 Israelis and seven foreign nationals on Saturday in exchange for 39 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Emily Hand, the nine-year-old Irish-Israeli national who was seized from her home in kibbutz Be’eri, was among the hostages to be released.


The announcement came after Hamas delayed the releases for several hours, saying Israel had violated the terms of a truce deal that had set the stage for such swaps. Saturday is the second day of what was meant to be a four-day truce.

Until Saturday afternoon, it still appeared everything was going according to plan. Aid trucks were entering Gaza, Hamas handed a list of more than a dozen hostages slated for release to mediators Qatar and Egypt, and Israel’s Prison Service prepared a list of dozens of Palestinian prisoners for release.

But by nightfall, as the hostages should have emerged from Gaza, Hamas announced that it was delaying the release over what it said were Israeli truce violations.

The group alleged 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 the 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 earlier 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. Two women, Maysoun Jabali and Israa Jaabis, were imprisoned in 2015 after being convicted of carrying out attacks on Israelis. Jaabis suffered severe burns during the incident.

In Tel Aviv, several thousand people packed a central square called “the square of the hostages,” awaiting news of the second release.

“Don’t forget the others because it’s getting harder, harder and harder. It’s heartbreaking,” said Neri Gershon, a Tel Aviv resident. Some families have accused Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government of not doing enough to bring hostages home.

In the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, the family of 16-year-old Wael Mesheh was getting the house ready for his homecoming as part of the second swap. “We are going to hug him so tight,” his mother, Hanadi Mesheh, said by phone.

The first group of freed Israelis included nine women and four children aged nine and under. They were taken to Israeli hospitals for observation and were declared to be in good condition.

Hours later, 24 Palestinian women and 15 teenage boys held in Israeli prisons in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem were freed. The teenagers had been jailed for minor offences including throwing stones. The women included several convicted of trying to stab Israeli soldiers.

“It’s a happiness tainted with sorrow because our release from prison came at the cost of the lives of martyrs and the innocence of children,” said one released prisoner, Aseel Munir al-Titi.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.

On the first day of the four-day ceasefire, Hamas released 24 of the roughly 240 hostages taken during its October 7th 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.

“We are relieved to confirm the safe release of 24 hostages,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Those already freed were among some 240 people captured when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th, triggering the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Gaza.

As the ceasefire went into effect on Friday, streets in the southern Gaza Strip – where Israel has urged civilians to evacuate to as its troops concentrate on the north – were filled with people emerging from shelters, some carrying belongings, footage on Al Jazeera showed. In the city of Khan Younis, cars crowded the streets and blared their horns.

Under the deal, which came after weeks of complex and delicate talks brokered by Qatar, the US and Egypt, Hamas is supposed to eventually return 50 women and children. Israel is supposed to release 150 Palestinian women and youths.

For many of the 2.3 million people who live in the Gaza Strip, the pause in the near-constant air and artillery strikes offered a first chance to safely move around, take stock of the devastation, and seek access to aid imports. At a UN agency centre in Khan Younis, people waited for cooking gas. Supplies had begun running short weeks ago and many people were cooking food over open fires fuelled by scavenged wood salvaged from bomb sites.

At outdoor markets and aid depots, thousands of people stood queuing for some of the aid that began flowing into Gaza in larger quantities as part of the truce.

The Israeli military said the hostages released on Friday arrived in Israel and underwent initial medical assessments before being taken to hospitals, where they would be reunited with their families.

“We’ve completed the first return of our hostages,” Mr Netanyahu said. “We’re committed to returning all of them”. He added: “We’re committed to achieving all the aims of the war” – a reference to Israel’s intention to resume the military attack on Hamas when the four-day ceasefire expires.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said the Israelis released ranged from two-year-old Aviv Asher and his family to 85-year-old Yaffa Adar.

Thailand’s government said the 10 Thai nationals released will stay in the hospital for at least 48 hours, following which its embassy will make arrangements for them to travel back to the country as soon as possible, according to a statement. An estimated 20 of its citizens are still being held, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Israeli strikes from air, land and sea intensified ahead of the ceasefire, the United Nations said. Shortly before the pause, the Israeli army warned people in Gaza to stay in southern areas. In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in the north, which Israel says is Hamas’s “centre of gravity”.

The pause in fighting was accompanied by a surge in humanitarian aid. The UN also said 21 critically ill patients were evacuated from the north of Gaza.