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Qatar and Egypt say more Gaza hostages to be freed as stand-off is resolved

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Qatar and Egypt said mediators had resolved a dispute that caused Hamas to delay the release of a second group of hostages held in Gaza on Saturday, adding that 13 Israelis and seven foreigners would be freed.

The Palestinian militant group had earlier warned that it would not release any more people it seized in its devastating October 7 attack until Israel “commits to the terms of the agreement relating to entry of aid trucks to northern Gaza”.

But Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, said the “obstacles were overcome” through Qatari-Egyptian mediation. He added that 39 Palestinians would also be released from Israeli prisons.

Diaa Rashwan, a spokesperson for the Egyptian government, said mediators had resolved the dispute, adding that the International Committee of the Red Cross was moving to receive the 13 Israeli hostages and the seven foreigners.

Hamas freed 24 captives on Friday as part of a deal under which Israel agreed to pause its offensive on Gaza for four days, release Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons and allow more aid into the coastal enclave.

Under the truce agreement brokered by Qatar, the US and Egypt, Hamas will free 50 Israeli civilians held in Gaza in staggered groups over the four-day period, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and substantial aid deliveries to the besieged strip.

Both sides are supposed to meet commitments each day to ensure the durability of the deal. Saturday’s dispute underlined the fragility of the agreement between the warring parties.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan said the group had complained to Qatar and Egypt about issues including insufficient aid delivery. He also alleged that Israeli soldiers had shot at Gazans on Friday as they attempted to move northwards.

Hamas’ military wing “postponed releasing the second 13 captives in order to hear the response from the mediators”, Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.

Under the four-day agreement at least 200 trucks of aid were to be delivered daily to Gaza, to which Israel has laid siege since Hamas’s October 7 attack triggered the war.

Israel said 200 trucks were entering Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt after going through Israeli security checks. It said in a statement that UN agencies “led the deployment of over 50 humanitarian aid trucks to both the northern Gaza Strip and shelters that have not yet been evacuated”.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid wait to cross from the southern Gaza Strip into the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday © MOHAMMED SABER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

An official briefed on the process said the agreement was still intact, adding that it was not clear who was at fault for the delay in aid deliveries, which have to transit through Rafah, the only crossing with Gaza that is operating, which is not controlled by Israel.

A team of Qatari officials flew into Tel Aviv on Saturday to co-ordinate with the parties and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly and to discuss further details of the ongoing deal”, a diplomat said.

Aid workers had warned of the challenges of getting large amounts of supplies into the strip because of logistical hurdles and Israeli checks.

Although 200 trucks of aid were dispatched to the Rafah crossing on Friday, only 137 were offloaded in Gaza, the UN said. In addition, 129,000 litres of fuel were delivered.

That was still the largest aid delivery to the strip since October 7 as the coastal enclave, which is home to 2.3mn people, endures severe shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine.

Israeli hostages Aviv and Raz Asher and their mother Doron greet their father Yoni after being released on Friday
Israeli hostages Aviv and Raz Asher and their mother Doron greet their father Yoni after being released on Friday © via REUTERS

Hamas on Friday freed 13 Israelis, 10 Thai nationals and a Filipino while Israel released 39 Palestinians from prison, mostly women and teenage boys.

Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups are still holding more than 200 people in Gaza, including elderly people and Israeli soldiers, after its fighters launched a savage assault on communities in southern Israel on October 7. Israeli officials said about 1,200 people were killed in the worst attack in the country’s history.

The Hamas assault triggered a ferocious Israeli military response, including a ground invasion. After six weeks of bombardment in which Palestinian officials say at least 13,300 people have been killed and 1.7mn forced to flee their homes, the temporary truce has given Gazans a brief respite.

The pause in fighting comes as pressure mounts on Israel from allies over the human cost of the war. David Cameron, UK foreign secretary, told the BBC on Friday that “the number of casualties is too high”.

Assaf Orion, former head of a strategic division at the Israeli Defence Force, said that while “Israel has its own interests to decrease the damage to civilian population as collateral . . . at the same time we cannot keep on being, I would say, overcautious and trying to go above and beyond, to do our best in this as we used in the past”.

Violence continued in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, where clashes during a raid by Israeli soldiers killed Shamekh Kamal Abu Al-Rad, a 25-year-old doctor, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. The IDF said it was “aware of the claims” and was reviewing the incident.

Additional reporting by Heba Saleh in Cairo

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