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Hamas to free more hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas continues. And while more than two dozen hostages were freed yesterday in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, today Hamas has delayed the release of another group of hostages, according to Hamas TV and social media channels. They are calling for Israel to allow more food trucks into the Gaza Strip. NPR's Brian Mann joins us from Tel Aviv. Brian, thanks for being with us.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about this delay?

MANN: Well, it's evening here in Israel and Gaza, and we were expecting Hamas to release this next group of Israeli hostages imminently. But suddenly Hamas said in a statement it's going to delay their release. What the group is saying is that Israel was not obeying terms of the cease-fire agreement on the second day of the pause. Israel did permit the entry of aid into southern Gaza, but Hamas says Israel wasn't allowing aid trucks into the badly hit northern areas of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations backs up some of this. The U.N. says it did manage to distribute some flour to shelters in northern Gaza yesterday, but other than that, the U.N. says there's no food in that area, and the situation is pretty dire.

This was a last-minute thing. Before this dispute over aid suddenly arose, Israel had gathered 42 Palestinian prisoners, and Israeli officials had said that about 13 Israeli hostages were supposed to be released right away. And what we're hearing is that Israeli officials are hoping to resolve this quickly and get this exchange back on track. Getting these hostages released is just a huge national priority right now in Israel and for the Israeli people. We spoke this morning with Debbie Kaye, who was in Jaffa, talking after the first round of hostage releases. Here's what she said.

DEBBIE KAYE: I mean, I think I feel what most Israelis feel, which is a little bit of relief and massive amount of worry about the rest that are not back yet.

MANN: So people really are on pins and needles worrying about how this is all going to work - roughly 200 Israelis still being held by Hamas, and delays like this don't help that anxiety.

SIMON: Delay also means Palestinian prisoners won't be released as scheduled. You were in Ramallah to see the first group of Palestinian prisoners released by Israel. What was that like?

MANN: Yeah, it was a really emotional night, Scott. The first prisoners, young teenage boys, many of them detained for things like throwing stones or Molotov cocktails, arrived long after dark. The crowd erupted in cheers, carrying them on their shoulders. A lot of support for Hamas there, people chanting Hamas slogans and flying the green Hamas flag. One thing that's clear over the last 50 days is that the group has won a lot more backing among Palestinians.

SIMON: And help us understand why. The group attacked the south of Israel last month. It killed about 1,200 people, many of them young children, civilians, the elderly.

MANN: Yeah, the years of Israeli occupation and now the death of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza during this war - it's brought anger against Israel among Palestinians to a boiling point. Many people see Hamas's violence as a kind of resistance. I spoke about this with a woman named Amen Nafa in the crowd last night, and she was just shaking with rage toward Israel.

AMEN NAFA: No normal people will do something to children, to buildings, to hospitals.

MANN: What do you say when the Israelis say they also hurt children? Hamas hurt children as well.

NAFA: I believe they took soldiers. They did not come to civilians.

MANN: And of course, that's not accurate. Hamas killed a lot of Israeli civilians and children in their attacks. But I hear this claim over and over again among Palestinians. And I have to say, Scott, it is volatile there in the West Bank. So we're going to have to see what happens in the hours ahead. Delaying the release of Palestinian prisoners, that's going to raise tensions even more.

SIMON: Brian Mann in Tel Aviv, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.