Hamas frees 13 Israeli hostages and 4 foreigners in Gaza hostage deal, mediated by Qatar and Egypt

A photograph captures an official, donning a vest, alongside ten Thai workers in Israel, who were recently freed on Friday following their captivity by Hamas in Gaza. (Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

26th November 2023 – (Gaza) Hamas handed over 13 Israeli hostages and four foreigners to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Saturday night, according to Qatar’s foreign ministry. The hostage deal, which had briefly faced disruption over a dispute regarding aid supplies to northern Gaza, was resolved with the mediation of Qatar and Egypt.

Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman, Majed Al Ansari, confirmed the release on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), stating that the hostages were received by the ICRC and were en route to Rafah. Television images showed Red Cross vehicles at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

A Palestinian official involved in the negotiations revealed that Hamas would uphold the four-day truce agreed upon with Israel, marking the first break in fighting after seven weeks of war.

Earlier, Al Ansari had stated that the brief delay and obstacle to the hostage release were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian contacts with both sides.

According to Al Ansari, among the Israeli hostages, eight were children and five were women. On the Palestinian side, 33 children and six women were slated for release from Israeli prisons.

In the second round of hostage releases, four Thai nationals were freed from Gaza, as confirmed by Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on social media. Thavisin stated that all hostages were safe and in good mental health, expressing their desire for a shower and to contact their relatives.

Israeli prison authorities reported the release of 39 Palestinians on Saturday as part of the hostage deal.

The truce, facilitated by Qatar with assistance from Egypt and the United States, allowed the first 13 Israeli hostages to be freed by Hamas on Friday in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Additionally, Hamas released ten Thais and one Filipino on the same day.

US President Joe Biden personally addressed the hold-up in the hostage deal with Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, according to Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. Following the call, the White House was informed by the Qataris that the agreement was back on track, and the ICRC was mobilized to collect the hostages.

The armed wing of Hamas had previously announced a delay in the scheduled second round of hostage releases, citing Israel’s failure to meet all truce conditions, including allowing aid trucks into northern Gaza.

While Israel claimed that it was abiding by the mediated deal with Hamas, Qatar acting as the mediator, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan highlighted that only a fraction of the agreed-upon aid trucks had reached northern Gaza.

Israel stated that 50 trucks carrying food, water, shelter equipment, and medical supplies had been deployed to northern Gaza under UN supervision, marking the first substantial aid delivery to the area since the war began.

Israeli army spokesperson Olivier Rafowicz confirmed that Israel strictly adhered to the terms of the truce, emphasizing that no attacks or offensive operations were conducted in Gaza on Saturday.

The hostage exchange is set to continue over four days, with a total of 50 hostages to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian prisoners. This truce represents the first cessation of hostilities since Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on 7th October, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 people and the capture of approximately 240 hostages.

Egypt had signalled positive signs from all parties regarding a possible truce extension, and Israel stated that the ceasefire could be prolonged if Hamas continues to release hostages at a rate of at least ten per day.