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The precarious truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza stretched into a third day on Sunday as both sides prepared for another round of hostage and prisoner releases which are due to take place later in the day.
Late on Saturday night Hamas freed 13 Israeli civilians and four Thai nationals, the second set of hostages to be released as part of a four-day pause in hostilities. Israeli authorities released 39 Palestinian women and children.
Under the terms of the deal brokered by Qatar, the US and Egypt, at least 50 Israeli civilians seized by Hamas during its October 7 attack on southern Israel are to be released in staggered groups, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and an increase in humanitarian aid to the strip.
Both sides are supposed to meet daily commitments in order to maintain the durability of the deal. A person briefed on the process said it was hoped that 13 Israelis and four foreigners, including two US citizens, would be released on Sunday.
Israel has committed to “pause” its military offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for the duration of the agreement, which went into effect on Friday. The Palestinian militant group has also ceased fire.
The youngest hostage released on Saturday was three-year-old Yahel Shoham, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office, while the eldest was her grandmother, Shoshan Haran, 67. Israeli health authorities said on Sunday morning that hostages were in “good” physical condition, with only one requiring serious hospitalisation.
The hostage-prisoner exchange was the second in as many days, after 13 Israeli civilians and 11 foreign nationals were released on Friday, along with 39 Palestinian women and children.
Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups are thought to still be holding about 200 Israelis and foreign nationals. The releases of foreign citizens have come in addition to the terms of the deal for Israeli hostages.
The Palestinian inmates released on Saturday night were received by throngs of well-wishers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The deal was temporarily thrown into doubt on Saturday afternoon after Hamas claimed that the number of humanitarian aid trucks entering Gaza was inadequate.
The enclave of 2.3mn people has suffered severe shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine since Israel’s invasion, with aid only being delivered via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
The dispute was later “overcome” through Qatari-Egyptian mediation, according to Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari. But it demonstrated the fragility of the accord, which is the first pause in fighting since Hamas launched its attack on southern Israeli communities on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people according to Israeli officials.
Israel responded with a sustained bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza in which Palestinian officials say at least 13,300 people have been killed and 1.7mn displaced.
Early on Sunday the UN said a total of 187 aid trucks entered Gaza on Saturday.
Aid workers have warned of the challenges of handling large amounts of supplies because of logistical hurdles and Israeli checks. On Friday, only 137 trucks were offloaded inside Gaza, the UN said.
The Israeli military said 200 trucks of aid, in addition to tankers of fuel and cooking gas, had entered the territory on both Friday and Saturday as part of its commitment to the deal.