The terror group released seventeen hostages held by Hamas for seven weeks on Saturday night after an agonising delay raised fears that the truce deal with Israel would collapse.

Those released include Emily Hand, the nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl who was initially thought to have died in the October 7 attack on Kibbutz Be’eri in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

But after 50 days in captivity, Emily was reunited with her father, Thomas Hand, who had restlessly campaigned for her safe return after learning she was alive.

Other survivors of the massacre at Kibbutz Be’eri were among the 13 Israelis and four Thai hostages who arrived back in Israel in Red Cross vehicles last night.

“We have been waiting for far too long for this moment,” he said Saturday night. “Every day has been a long and painful living nightmare.

“My Emily is coming home at last, broken but in one piece,”

Several of those freed last night were children whose parents either remain in captivity or who were killed. Israeli officials expressed anger that families appeared to have been split up in the process.

Siblings Noam Or, 17, and Alma Or, 13, whom Hamas terrorists took hostage from their home in Kibbutz Be’eri alongside their father and cousin, who have not been released. Their mother, Yonat, was killed in Hamas’s attack.

Sharon Avigdori, a 52-year-old drama therapist, was released alongside her daughter, Noam Avigdori, a 12-year-old due to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah. More than seven members of their family were captured, and three were murdered.

Hila Rotem, 13, was also released. The teenager had escaped from Kibbutz Be’eri and hid in bushes but was discovered by Hamas. She was described last night as a “friendly girl with a good heart who could never harm anyone else”. Her mother remains in Gaza.

Residents of kibbutz Be’eri watched the exchange on television from a hotel where they have been housed since October 7 and were shown cheering as they recognised their neighbours.

The hostages are the second group to be released by Hamas, following the agreement of a four-day ceasefire that has also seen the delivery of humanitarian aid.

In exchange, Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners, including a woman who was convicted of setting off a car bomb in the West Bank in 2015. A police officer she injured in the blast said she should “rot in prison” but was pleased her release had secured the freedom of Israeli captives.

After an agonising, hours-long wait, the deal went through late on Saturday after the terror group’s al-Qassam brigades delayed the release of the hostages, accusing Israel of breaking the terms of the hostage agreement, claims it denied.

Hamas claimed Israel had violated the ceasefire deal by firing on Palestinians trying to return to their homes in northern Gaza and failing to allow the agreed number of aid trucks through to the north.

It also alleged that Israel had reversed the schedule of prisoner releases so that those with short sentences were being set free ahead of those with lengthy sentences.

Last-ditch negotiations by Egypt and Qatar, moderating the ceasefire deal, prevented it from collapsing altogether. At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, held crisis talks with Israel’s security chiefs to decide how to proceed if Hamas did not release the hostages by midnight.

The release occurred around 11 pm local time – seven hours later than planned.

The anguish of the relatives of those still held by the terror group was matched by the joy of the first families reunited after the first exchange on Friday.

Emotional scenes played out in Israeli hospitals and medical centres on Saturday as Israelis released under the deal saw their loved ones again.

Ohad Munder, an Israeli boy who celebrated his ninth birthday as a Hamas hostage, hugged his father for the first time in at least 50 days. He was later seen eating ice cream with friends who had come to meet him at the medical centre.

Relief overwhelmed Yoni Asher as he greeted his wife, Doron Katz Asher, and two daughters, four-year-old Raz and Aviv, two, who were all kidnapped on October 7.

“My dearest girl, my beautiful girl. Did you miss me? Were you thinking about Daddy?” he said in a heartwarming video of their reunion.

Relatives and supporters of those still in captivity gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night as the deal that brought a temporary end to weeks of fighting hung in the balance.

A crowd of 100,000 people, many wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Bring Them Home”, thronged the square before the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as they marked “50 Days of Hell”.

“Our hearts are broken until we see all of them home,” said Ehud Banai, an Israeli singer, from the stage.

Yaffa Adar, the 85-year-old who became a symbol of Israeli stoicism for staying composed as she was taken into Gaza by Hamas on a golf cart before being freed on Friday, wanted to attend, her grandson said.

“She’s looking at us and proud of me and all of us,” Alon Adar told the Times of Israel.

Before the row over hostages erupted, Egypt had said it received ‘positive signals’ from the two sides about the truce being extended from four days to five, or even six, due to extra rounds of hostages and prisoners that were under discussion.

Under the terms of the ceasefire, Israel and Hamas have agreed to exchange hostages in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners on each of the four days.

Some 200 aid trucks bearing fuel and cooking gas, among other supplies, crossed into Gaza on Saturday, but NGOs said this was barely enough to tackle the humanitarian crisis there.

ActionAid said it welcomed the pause in fighting but said four days was barely enough time to provide” significant humanitarian work or provide anything more than limited short-term relief.”

“During the pause, 200 truckloads of aid will be allowed to enter Gaza each day, but this is a drop in the ocean compared to what is urgently required. The deliveries will include 130,000 litres of fuel each day. Yet, UNRWA says it needs at least 160,000 per day to keep basic humanitarian operations running,” the aid group said in a statement.

Also on Saturday, an Israeli-owned ship was attacked in the Indian Ocean by a drone, which is suspected to have been launched by Iran.

US defence officials said the CMA CGM Symi vessel, owned by an Israeli billionaire, came under attack by an Iranian-made Shahed drone.

It was unclear whether the drone was launched directly by Iran or by one of its proxy groups in the region, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israel and Iran have for years been attacking each other’s ships and other infrastructure as part of an ongoing, so-called shadow war.

Later on Saturday evening, the Israel Defence Forces [IDF] said they intercepted two “suspicious” projectiles launched from across the Red Sea, which triggered air alerts in the Israeli resort town of Eilat.

“We are looking into the possibility that it was a false identification,” an IDF spokesman said. Houthi rebels in Yemen have previously claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on Eilat, in the southernmost corner of Israel.

Also on Saturday night, Israeli troops reportedly launched a raid on the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, a stronghold of terror groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In Lebanon, the UN’s peacekeeping force said a patrol car near the Israeli border was hit by IDF gunfire, damaging the vehicle.

“At around noon, a UNIFIL patrol was hit by IDF gunfire”, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said of the incident, which occurred near Aitarun.

“No peacekeepers were injured, but the vehicle was damaged… this incident occurred during a period of relative calm [on the border with Israel],” it added.

Tensions have soared on Israel’s northern frontier with Lebanon, where the Iranian proxy group Hizbollah has threatened to join the conflict if the war in Gaza escalates further.

A top Israeli general stressed on Saturday that it will resume the war on Gaza as soon as the ceasefire ends.

“We will return immediately at the end of the ceasefire to attack Gaza,” Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi said.

“We will also do this 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.