Updated Nov 25, 2023 - World

Hamas frees second group of Israeli hostages after hourslong delay

An International Red Cross vehicle reportedly carrying hostages released by Hamas crosses the Rafah border point in the Gaza Strip towards Egypt on Nov. 24. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

An International Red Cross vehicle reportedly carrying hostages released by Hamas crosses the Rafah border point in the Gaza Strip towards Egypt on Nov. 24. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Hamas freed 13 Israeli hostages and four foreign nationals on the second day of the pause in the fighting in Gaza after delaying the release for hours over a dispute around the aid going into the enclave.

The big picture: Israel released 39 more Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons overnight Saturday into Sunday as part of the deal between the Israeli government and Hamas.

  • Under the agreement, the militant group is expected to free at least 50 Israeli women and children in four groups over the four-day pause in fighting in exchange for Israel releasing 150 Palestinians — mostly women and children — from Israeli prisons.
  • The youngest hostage released on Saturday night is 3 years old and the oldest is in her 60s.
  • On Friday, Hamas freed 13 Israeli hostages, while Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners. The militant group also released 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino as part of a separate agreement with the Thai government.
  • The deal between Israel and Hamas came after weeks of sensitive Qatar-mediated negotiations, which also involved the Biden administration at the highest levels. A Qatari delegation arrived in Israel on Saturday to follow up on the implementation of the deal and help solve any problems, Israeli officials say.

Israel is also allowing hundreds of aid trucks into the enclave, as well as additional fuel and cooking gas as humanitarian groups race to scale up their efforts to address dire conditions Gaza's more than 2.2 million people face. More than half the population has been displaced due to war, according to the UN.

  • Some 200 trucks, including 50 for northern Gaza, entered the Strip on Friday, according to Israeli officials.
  • Hamas earlier Saturday had accused Israel of violating the agreement, specifically citing the amount of aid allowed into the northern part of the Strip, and vowed to delay the release of the second group of hostages until Israel committed "to allowing aid trucks to enter northern Gaza."
  • But following pressure from Qatari and Egyptian officials, Hamas agreed to resume the implementation of the deal, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the issue. Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials made it clear the aid truck issue was only technical in nature.
  • President Biden also spoke to the emir of Qatar and asked him to help in solving the crisis around the hostage deal, a U.S. official told Axios.

Zoom out: Israeli and U.S. officials have said the deal is structured to incentivize Hamas to release more than 50 Israeli hostages. Per the deal, Israel has agreed to extend the pause by a day for every 10 additional hostages released.

  • More than 240 people, including several Americans, were abducted during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. At least 1,200 people were killed in the attack, according to Israeli officials. Prior to this week's releases, four hostages, including two Americans, were freed, one was rescued and two others were found dead.

What they're saying: Asked by reporters on Friday whether he knew if and when any American hostages may be released, Biden said his "hope and expectation" is it could happen soon.

  • He specifically mentioned two American women and toddler Abigail Edan, who are among the several U.S. citizens still missing after the Oct. 7 attack.

Zoom in: The pause offers a short reprieve to Palestinians living in Gaza who have been under Israel's heavy bombardment since the war began. At least 14,850 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

  • Israel has vowed to continue the war after the pause in fighting "with full military power."
  • "We will not stop until we achieve our goals: the destruction of Hamas and bringing home the hostages from Gaza to Israel," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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