Gaza Truce Faces Challenges as Hamas Delays Hostage Release

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Ohad Munder, centre, is one of the children released by Hamas on the first day of a four-day truce with Israel. Here, the nine-year-old meets with family members at the Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel, on Saturday. (Schneider Children's Medical Center spokesperson/Reuters)

In a move that threatens the fragile truce between Hamas and Israel, the militant group Hamas announced a delay in the release of hostages, citing Israel’s failure to deliver sufficient humanitarian aid to northern Gaza. This development casts a shadow over the ceasefire that has brought a brief respite to the war-torn region.

Delayed Hostage Release

Hamas’s decision, announced on Saturday evening, postpones the release of the second group of hostages taken during its October 7 attack on Israel. This delay, the length of which remains unspecified, follows the release of 24 hostages by Hamas and 39 Palestinian detainees by Israel on Friday.

Among those freed were 13 Israelis, a Philippine national, and 10 Thai citizens. The Thai release, mediated separately by Egypt and Qatar, was confirmed by Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who called for the expedited release of the remaining 20 Thai nationals still in captivity.

Thai workers taken hostage by Hamas and later released as part of a deal between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas pose for photos after a medical checkup in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday. (Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Thailand/Reuters)

Truce Negotiations and Challenges

Negotiations, led by Qatar and Egypt, are ongoing to resolve the impasse. However, Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, has accused Israel of not honoring the terms of the Palestinian prisoner release. This claim is countered by Israeli army spokesperson Olivier Rafowicz, who insists Israel is strictly honoring the truce terms.

Under the current agreement, Hamas is to release one Israeli hostage for every three Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. The exchange, planned over four days, aims to free at least 50 Israeli hostages and 150 Palestinian detainees.

Egyptian Red Crescent members load on a truck humanitarian aid for war-torn Gaza brought by a French air force Airbus A400M cargo aircraft at El-Arish International Airport on November 20, 2023.
Thomas Samson | Afp | Getty Images

Humanitarian Aid and Truce Extension

The ceasefire, initially set for four days, allows for an extension based on the number of hostages released. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed hope for this extension, which is crucial for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Israel confirmed the dispatch of 50 aid trucks under UN supervision, marking the first significant aid delivery to northern Gaza since the war’s onset.

A displaced Palestinian boy carries a bag as he returns to his home walking next to houses destroyed in an Israeli strike during the conflict in Khan Younis. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Civilians Caught in the Conflict

The pause in hostilities has allowed Gazans to assess the devastation, with many returning to destroyed homes. Emad Abu Hajer, a resident of Jabalia refugee camp, sadly recounts discovering relatives’ bodies in the rubble. In Israel, families of hostages like Shelly Shem Tov, whose son Omer remains captive, express a mix of joy for those released and sorrow for those still held.

Medical and Psychological Treatment

The Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva is treating several released hostages, including children. Dr. Gilat Livni, the hospital’s director of pediatrics, emphasizes the sensitivity of these moments, noting the hostages’ reasonable condition despite weight loss and some health issues.

People in southern Gaza who evacuated homes in the early days of the war started to go to their home areas to check on their houses. Here, displaced Palestinians walk on a road as they try to return to their homes in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Palestinian Side

On the Palestinian side, the release of women and teenagers, some jailed for minor offenses, has sparked celebrations in towns like Beitunia. However, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club notes that Israel still holds approximately 7,200 Palestinians.

Casualties and the War’s Toll

Since October 7, the conflict has claimed over 14,800 Palestinian lives, including around 6,150 children, and 1,200 Israelis. These figures reflect the heavy toll of the war, which has seen massive Israeli offensives and Hamas fighters penetrating Israeli defenses.

Fragile Future

Both sides warn of resuming hostilities should the truce end without resolution. Yet, amid these uncertainties, the fragile ceasefire offers a glimmer of hope for a more enduring peace, as citizens on both sides yearn for an end to the violence.