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Hostages freed in crucial deal, test of truce fragility

Thirteen Israelis and four Thai hostages taken by Hamas have been freed as part of a crucial hostage deal.

After intensive mediation efforts by Qatar and Egypt, the dispute over aid that threatened the temporary truce was overcome, highlighting the fragility of the deal. Television footage showed the freed hostages crossing the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Israel, where they were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross on Saturday afternoon.

In exchange for their release, 39 Palestinian civilians will be released from Israeli prisons.

A Palestinian official confirmed that Hamas will continue with the four-day truce agreed with Israel. This is the first halt in fighting since Hamas terrorists launched an attack in southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking an estimated 240 hostages.

The deal faced a temporary setback when Hamas’ armed wing announced a delay in the second round of hostage releases scheduled for Saturday.

On Saturday, 61 aid trucks were delivered to northern Gaza, the largest number since October 7. These supplies included essential items such as food, water and emergency medical assistance.

The major diplomacy needed to prevent the deal from collapsing involved mediation efforts by Qatar and Egypt, with US President Joe Biden participating.

Israel has indicated that the ceasefire could be extended if Hamas continues to release hostages at a rate of at least 10 per day. Up to 100 hostages could be released.

While Saturday proved to be a day of intense diplomatic efforts, it also meant hours of anxious waiting for the families of the hostages.

For some, the joy of the release of their loved ones was overshadowed by the continued captivity of others.

Nine-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand, who was initially believed to have been killed, was among those freed. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar expressed his relief and stated that Ireland would redouble its efforts to work towards a permanent ceasefire.

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