Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories: Hamas fighters on Saturday released a second group of 13 Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, freeing for the first time one of the people snatched during their bloody assault on a music festival.
The hostage-for-prisoner exchange had been delayed for hours in a heart-stopping development when Hamas accused Israel of breaching its side of the agreement, struck as part of a four-day ceasefire which is already past its mid-point.
But after the intervention of Qatari and Egyptian mediators and reassurances from Israel, Hamas agreed to proceed, releasing 13 Israelis and four Thai hostages in a late-night operation.
Israel in turn freed 39 Palestinian prisoners, officials said.
Red Cross minibuses could be seen ferrying the hostages late at night through Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt ahead of their transfer to Israel, AFP photo and video images showed.
Among the freed Israelis was 21-year-old Maya Regev, kidnapped by Hamas in their deadly October 7 assault on the Supernova desert rave, according to a forum of the hostages' families.
Maya Regev and her 18-year-old brother Itay, who was also snatched by Hamas during the festival, were later shown tied up in the back of a pick-up truck in a video posted on social media.
"I am so excited and happy that Maya is on her way to us now. Nonetheless, my heart is split because my son Itay is still in Hamas captivity in Gaza," her mother Mirit said in a statement released by the hostage families' forum.
The family of freed nine-year-old hostage Emily Hand said they were "overjoyed" to embrace her again.
"We can't find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days," they said in a statement via the forum.
Prison authorities in Israel said they in turn released 39 Palestinian detainees including 38-year-old Israa Jaabis, sentenced to 11 years in jail for detonating a gas cylinder at a checkpoint in 2015.
The handover of Hamas hostages came hours later than expected after the militant group said Israel was interfering in the selection of prisoners for release and was not allowing aid to reach civilians in northern Gaza.
Nine-year-old boy hugs father
Hamas later said it had "responded positively" to Egyptian and Qatari mediators, after they relayed a promise by Israel to "uphold all the conditions of the accord".
Israeli officials denied any breach of the terms of the pause.
Saturday's exchange followed an initial swap on Friday when Hamas released 13 Israelis, all of them women and children.
Ten Thais and one Filipino were also unexpectedly freed by Hamas.
Israel in turn released 39 Palestinian women and children from its prisons under an agreement that mandates exchanges at a ratio of three to one.
Israeli hostages who were let go in the initial swap reunited with their families in touching scenes.
Nine-year-old boy Otah, wearing glasses and carrying a stuffed toy, rounded the corner of a hospital near Tel Aviv and broke into a run, hurling himself into the arms of his father, video images showed.
The boy, his mother and grandmother were among those released in the first exchange Friday.
On the same day in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, fireworks exploded and crowds filled the streets to welcome the first release of Palestinian prisoners.
"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.
Hamas is expected to free a total of 50 hostages during the truce in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, under an agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.
Aid trucks enter Gaza
Its fighters snatched around 240 people when they broke through Gaza's militarised border with Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners, according to Israeli authorities.
Following the deadliest attack in its history, Israel launched an air, artillery and naval bombardment alongside a ground offensive to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.
The pause in fighting in Gaza opened the way for more aid to Palestinians struggling to survive with shortages of water and other essentials. Israel had placed Gaza under near-total siege.
A total of 61 trucks delivered food, water and humanitarian aid via a "humanitarian passageway" to northern Gaza on Saturday, the United Nations office for humanitarian affairs said.
Another 187 trucks of vital supplies had been sent separately to aid organisations operating in the Gaza Strip, it said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said that in "several reported incidents" on Friday, "Israeli forces opened fire and threw teargas canisters at people heading northwards; at least one person was reportedly killed, and dozens injured."
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said seven people had been wounded in similar incidents on Saturday.
Egypt said that it had received positive feedback from both sides about the idea of extending the truce for a day or two and releasing more hostages and prisoners.
"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 insisted Saturday that the war to eliminate Hamas would resume as soon as the pause in fighting ends.
"We will return immediately at the end of the ceasefire to attack Gaza," Halevi said.
'They destroyed our houses'
"We will also do this in order to dismantle Hamas, also to create a great deal of pressure to return as quickly as possible and as many abductees as possible, every last one of them," he added.
The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.
Since the truce, thousands have been returning 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?"
A woman sat on top of a mound of debris with her head in her hands, crying.
In southern Gaza, AFPTV drone images showed people walking or riding in donkey carts along paths cleared through piles of rubble.