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Palestinian prisoners released by Israel arrives in West Bank town

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Hostage prisoners swap Israel Hamas

New Delhi: A bus carrying nearly three dozen Palestinian prisoners released by Israel arrived in the West Bank early on Sunday, following Hamas' release of 13 Israelis and four foreigners in the second round of swaps under a cease-fire deal.

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Hundreds of people greeted the International Committee of the Red Cross bus as it arrived in Al Bireh. Crowds chanted "God is great" as the bus arrived, and several young men stood on the roof of the vehicle. Many in the crowd held Hamas flags and chanted pro-Hamas slogans.

The Israeli military said the hostages released by Hamas, including four Thais, had been transferred to Israel and were to be reunited with their families.

Hamas released a video showing the hostages appearing shaken but mostly in good physical condition as masked militants led them to Red Cross vehicles headed out of Gaza.

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Nurhan Awad received a hero's welcome by hundreds of people at the Qalandia refugee camp near Jerusalem when she arrived shortly after her release. The woman was 17 in 2016 when she was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years in jail for attempting to stab an Israeli soldier with a pair of scissors.

Released Palestinian woman Shurouq Duwiyat arrived at her home in Jerusalem where joyous family members hugged and kissed her.

"We send a message to our people in Gaza that we stand by your side and support you," Duwiyat told reporters inside her home.

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Also in Jerusalem, Israeli troops evicted journalists who gathered outside the home of Israa Jaabis, who had been imprisoned since 2015 after being convicted of carrying out separate attacks on Israelis.

The Israeli hostages released on Saturday by Hamas included seven children and six women, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced. Most of the released hostages were from Kibbutz Be'eri, a community Hamas militants ravaged during their October 7 cross-border attack, a spokesperson for the kibbutz said. The children ranged in age from three to 16, and the women ranged from 18 to 67.

It was a bittersweet moment for the residents of Be'eri. A kibbutz spokesperson said all the released hostages either had a family member killed in the October 7 rampage or had left a loved one in captivity in Gaza.

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The mother of one of the released hostages, 12-year-old Hila Rotem, remained in captivity, the spokesperson said.

Another, Emily Hand, is a girl whose father believed her to be dead for weeks before finding out she was held as a hostage.

Residents of the kibbutz have been staying together at a Dead Sea hotel since the October 7 attack. A large crowd gathered in a function room at the hotel late Saturday, cheering in excitement as they saw the first images of their loved ones being released.

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One classmate of 18-year-old Noga Weiss said there was great excitement about her release.

"I was very nervous when I heard about the delay. I thought something would happen," the classmate, identified as Zohar, told Channel 13 TV. "It was a great relief when I saw her."

The last-minute delay had created a tense standoff on the second day of what's meant to be a four-day ceasefire. By nightfall, as the hostages should have emerged from Gaza, Hamas alleged that the aid deliveries permitted by Israel fell short of what was promised and that not enough of it was reaching northern Gaza -- the focus of Israel's ground offensive and main combat zone. Hamas also said not enough veteran prisoners were freed in the first swap on Friday.

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"This is putting the deal in danger," Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said in Beirut. But Egypt, Qatar and Hamas itself later said obstacles had been overcome, and Hamas listed six women and 33 teenage boys it said were expected to be released by the Israelis.

On the first day of the ceasefire, Hamas released 24 of the roughly 240 hostages taken during its October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison.

Overall, Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners, during the four-day truce -- all women and minors.

Israel has said the truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed -- something US President Joe Biden said he hoped would occur.

Biden spoke on Saturday with Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani of Qatar, the White House said, to discuss "hurdles" to the release of the hostages.

In Tel Aviv, several thousand people packed a central square called "the square of the hostages", awaiting news of the second release.

"Don't forget the others because it's getting harder, harder and harder. It's heartbreaking," said Neri Gershon, a Tel Aviv resident. Some families have accused Netanyahu's government of not doing enough to bring hostages home.

In the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, the family of 16-year-old Wael Mesheh was frantically getting the house ready for his homecoming as part of the second swap. "We are going to hug him so tight," his mother, Hanadi Mesheh, said by phone.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, an advocacy group, Israel is holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war. (AP)

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