More Palestinian and Israeli detainees expected to be released in swap deal as Gaza's truce enters day 3

AFP , Ahram Online , AP , Sunday 26 Nov 2023

More Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails are set to be released on Sunday in exchange for a third group of Israeli held in captivity by the Palestinian resistance groups, as Gaza truce holds into third day.

Palestinians detainees (wearing grey jumpers) cheer among supporters, in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, after being released from Israeli jails in exchange for captives released from the Gaza Strip, on November, 2023. AFP


In a sign of the fragility of the exchanges, the latest swap Saturday was delayed for hours after Hamas accused Israel of breaching its side of the deal that led to a four-day ceasefire in seven weeks of war marked by the deadliest Israeli violence in decades, vast destruction and displacement across the Gaza Strip.

The war has already claimed the lives of more than 14,500 Palestinians, two thirds of them women and children.

Hamas said Israel was interfering in the selection of prisoners for release and not releasing enough long-serving prisoners. Israel is also not allowing aid to reach civilians in the north. Aid deliveries fell short of what was expected. 

Hamas later said it relented when Egyptian and Qatari mediators relayed a promise by Israel to uphold the accord, and finally released 13 Israelis and four Thai captives at night, officials said.

Israel, in turn, freed 33 children and six Palestinian women which were detained in Israel jails.

Israeli occupation prison authorities said the latest group of released Palestinian detainees included 38-year-old Israa Jaabis, sentenced to 11 years in jail for allegedly detonating a gas cylinder at a checkpoint in 2015.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it had since received a list of captives due to be released on Sunday.

The list was being checked by security officials, it said, and families of the captives had been informed.

Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said the four detainees from his country released Saturday were healthy.

"Everyone is glad to be released. Overall mental health is still good," he said in a social media post.

 Ceasefire extension?

Egypt has said that it received positive feedback from both sides about the idea of extending the truce for a day or two and releasing more detainees.

"It's only a start, but so far it's gone well," US President Joe Biden told reporters Friday, adding "the chances are real" for extending the truce.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called for "a permanent ceasefire and a complete end to this aggression".

But Israeli armed forces chief Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi said Saturday that the war would continue.

"We will return immediately at the end of the ceasefire to attack Gaza," Halevi said.

 West Bank celebrations

Despite the row, Sundays' release would be the third since the four-day truce entered into force Friday.

Hamas has released 26 Israeli captives in exchange for 78 Palestinian detainees in the two releases already completed.

The resistance group have also freed a total of 14 Thais and one Filipino.

Iran's foreign ministry said it had joined with key mediator Qatar to help negotiate the release of the Thai nationals.

Some of the Palestinian prisoners were released in east Jerusalem, while the bulk returned home to a hero’s welcome in the occupied West Bank.

Among those released was Nurhan Awad, who was 17 in 2016 when she was sentenced to 13 1/2 years in jail.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, fireworks exploded and crowds filled the streets to welcome the first release of the Palestinians on Friday.

"I was just waiting for the day I would be released from prison so I could hug my mother like this," said Rawan Abu Matar, who served eight years for attempting to stab an Israeli soldier.

In the town of Al-Bireh, newly released teenage boys were paraded through the main square where they waved Palestinian flags as well as green banners of Hamas and yellow banners of the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas is expected to free a total of 50 captives during the truce in exchange for 150 Palestinian detainees, under an agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Aid trucks enter Gaza

The pause in the Israel war on Gaza has also allowed a little more aid to reach Palestinians struggling to survive with shortages of water and other essentials. Israel had placed Gaza under total siege for 48 consecutive days.

The United Nations said the truce has made it possible to scale up the delivery of food, water, and medicine to the largest volume since the start of the war. It was also able to deliver 129,000 liters (about 35,000 gallons) of fuel, just over 10% of daily pre-war volume, as well as cooking gas, a first since the war began.

Aid also reached northern Gaza, via a "humanitarian passageway," for the first time in a month. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 61 trucks carrying food, water and medical supplies headed there on Saturday.

The U.N. said it and the Palestinian Red Crescent were also able to evacuate 40 patients and family members from a hospital in Gaza City to another one in the south.

Another 187 trucks of vital supplies had been sent separately to aid organisations operating in the Gaza Strip, it said.

The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been forcibly displaced by Israel.

Thousands have been returning since the truce to what is left of their homes.

"We are civilians," said Mahmud Masood, standing in front of flattened buildings in Jabalia, northern Gaza. "Why have they destroyed our houses?"

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