Israel-Hamas war: 17 hostages and 39 prisoners released
Hamas militants on Saturday released 17 hostages, including 13 Israelis, from captivity in the Gaza Strip, while Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners in the latest stage of a four-day cease-fire, Associated Press reported.
The late-night exchange was held up for several hours after Hamas accused Israel of violating the agreement. The delay underscored the fragility of the cease-fire, which has halted a war that has shocked and shaken Israel, caused widespread destruction across the Gaza Strip, and threatened to unleash wider fighting across the region.
The war erupted on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants in Gaza burst across the border into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 240 others, including, women, children and older people. Israel immediately declared war, carrying out weeks of airstrikes and a ground offensive that have left over 13,300 Palestinians dead, according to health authorities in the Hamas-controlled territory. Roughly two-thirds of those killed in Gaza have been women and minors.
The cease-fire, brokered by Qatar and the United States, is the first extended break in fighting since the war began. Overall, 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 and complete its goals of returning all hostages and destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities.
The plight of the hostages has gripped the Israeli public’s attention. Thousands of people gathered in central Tel Aviv on Saturday in solidarity with the hostages andtheir families. Many accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not doing enough to bring the hostages home. The releases have triggered mixed emotions: happiness, coupled with angst over the scores of hostages who remain in captivity, according to Associated Press.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced early Sunday that it had received a new list of hostages slated to be released later in the day in the third of four scheduled swaps.
In the West Bank, hundreds of people burst into wild celebrations for a second night as a busload of Palestinian prisoners arrived early Sunday. Teenage boys released in the deal were carried on the shoulders of well-wishers in the main square of the town of Al Bireh. But the mood of celebration was dampened by scenes of destruction and suffering in Gaza.
The start of the pause brought quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, who are reeling from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel also went silent.
War-weary Palestinians in northern Gaza, where the offensive has been focused, returned to the streets, crunching over rubble between shattered buildings and at times digging through it with bare hands.
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