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DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip—The fragile cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group appeared to be back on track Sunday after the release of a second group of hostages. Egypt said it had received new lists for an expected third release.
In a separate development, Hamas announced Sunday that one of its top commanders had been killed, without saying when or how. Israel’s military confirmed it.
The second exchange was delayed for hours Saturday after Hamas accused Israel of violating the agreement, which has brought the first significant pause in seven weeks of war. Hamas later released 13 Israelis and four Thais, while Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners.
Diaa Rashwan, chair of the Egyptian State Information Services, said Egypt had received a list of 13 hostages Hamas will release Sunday, and another list of 39 Palestinian prisoners that Israel will release afterwards.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the United States had “reason to believe” that an American hostage would be released Sunday and said there were hopes it would be Abigail Edan, the 4-year-old who lost her parents in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Mr. Sullivan also said President Joe Biden would speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Sunday.
Hamas terrorists took some 240 people hostage, including children, during its rampage across southern Israel that ignited the war. Forty-four have been released, one was freed by Israeli forces and two were found dead inside Gaza.
Some Israelis have accused Mr. Netanyahu of not doing enough to bring them back. Pressure from the hostages’ families has sharpened the dilemma facing the country’s leaders, who seek to eliminate Hamas while returning the captives.
The initial terrorist attack by Hamas claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians. In the war launched against Hamas, more than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza.
The four-day cease-fire, which began Friday, was brokered by Qatar and Egypt and the United States. Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners. The hostages are all women and children. The prisoners are all charged with aiding or conducting terrorist attacks.
Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed, but has vowed to quickly resume the offensive once it ends. Mr. Sullivan said the United States is working “with all sides on the possibility that this deal gets extended to additional hostages beyond the initial 50.”
Hamas Commander Killed
Hamas announced the death of Ahmed al-Ghandour, who was in charge of northern Gaza and a member of its top military council. He is the highest-ranking militant known to have been killed in the fighting.
Mr. Al-Ghandour, believed to have been around 56 years old, had survived at least three Israeli attempts on his life, and was involved in a cross-border attack in 2006 in which Palestinian terrorists captured an Israeli soldier, according to the Counter Extremism Project, an advocacy group based in Washington.
Hamas said he was killed along with three other senior fighters, including Ayman Siam, who Israel says was in charge of Hamas’ rocket-firing unit. The Israeli military had mentioned both men in a Nov. 16 statement, saying it had targeted an underground complex where Hamas leaders were hiding.
Aid and Respite in Gaza
The pause has given some respite to Gaza’s 2.3 million people, still reeling from relentless Israeli bombardment that has driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel also went silent.
Some Palestinians in northern Gaza, where the offensive has focused, returned to the streets. Entire city blocks in and around Gaza City have been gutted by airstrikes that hollowed out buildings and left drifts of rubble in the street.
In southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people from the north have sought refuge, residents lined up outside gas stations for a second day, hoping to stock up on fuel. Palestinians who have tried to return to the north to see if their homes are still intact have been turned back by Israeli troops.
The Israeli military has ordered Palestinians not to return to the north or approach within a kilometer (0.6 mile) of the border fence.
Hostages for Prisoners
The Israeli hostages freed on Saturday included seven children and six women, ranging from 3 to 67. Most were from Kibbutz Be’eri, a community Hamas terrorists ravaged during their Oct. 7 attack.
The freed hostages have mostly stayed away from the public eye. Hospitals said their physical condition has been good, aside from one who was shot during the attack and required surgery. Little is publicly known about the conditions of their captivity.
Eyal Nouri, the nephew of Adina Moshe, 72, who was freed on Friday, said his aunt “had to adjust to the sunlight” because she had been in complete darkness for weeks.
The Palestinians who were released included at least two women who had been given long sentences after being convicted by Israeli courts of violent attacks. Many Palestinians view prisoners held by Israel, including those implicated in attacks, as heroes and have celebrated their release.
The war in Gaza has been accompanied by a surge in violence in the Israeli West Bank. Palestinian health authorities said early Sunday that five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin that began the day before.
The Israeli army has conducted frequent military raids and arrested hundreds of Palestinians since the start of the war, mostly people it suspects of being Hamas terrorists.
By Wafaa Shurafa and Samy Magdy