The four-day pause in fighting started at 7 a.m. local time as the result of a deal that also calls for the release of 50 hostages taken by Hamas and 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
The first hostages are scheduled to be released at 4 p.m. local time. Majed al-Ansari, Qatar’s foreign minister, said a list of hostages had been sent to Israeli and Hamas officials.
A few minutes before the pause in fighting started, air raid sirens sounded in southern Israel.
Still, the cease-fire comes more than six weeks after estimated 240 people were captured and held hostage by Hamas after its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The temporary pause in fighting had been scheduled to begin Thursday but was delayed by what al-Ansari said were logistical issues, including verification of the hostage release list exchanged by Israel and Hamas officials.
The cease-fire and hostage-prisoner release was negotiated by the United States along with Qatar and Egypt. Both sides agreed to release women and children. Israel also agreed to extend the pause in fighting by one day for every 10 additional hostages Hamas releases.
Biden: ‘Fingers crossed’ that 3-year-old hostage Avigail Idan will be freed
President Joe Biden expressed hope Thursday that 3-year-old Avigail Idan will be among the initial round of hostages released.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Biden told reporters in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Israeli-American girl has been held hostage in the Gaza Strip since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Her parents were killed in the attack.
In Washington, officials welcomed the announcement that the cease-fire would begin and expect to see a number of hostages released in Gaza, said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
Father of American hostage does not expect son to be released
As dozens of families await word on whether their loved ones will be released in the hostage and prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, American Jonathan Dekel-Chen, 60, is keeping his expectations low.
“It will not involve my son. I am as certain of that as one can be,” he said in a brief phone interview.
Dekel-Chen’s son, Sagui, 35, hasn’t been heard from since Hamas invaded his home on Nir Oz kibbutz, in southern Israel, on Oct. 7. He lived there with his two daughters, ages 2 and 6, and pregnant wife. They escaped.
Of the 50 hostages due to be released over four days beginning Friday, most if not all are expected to be women and children, according to Israel and Qatari officials.
“I will be overjoyed for those families who can be reunited with their loved ones,” Dekel-Chen said.
He described his son, an entrepreneur whose “moonlighting gig is repurposing old buses for new uses,” as “the son anyone would love to have. You can’t meet him and not smile. He’s endlessly positive. He’s a builder. He’s a creator. He’s been that his entire life.”
How tiny Qatar became a big player in the hostage release
Qatar, a tiny Persian Gulf nation with an abundance of natural gas reserves and a desire for prestige on the world stage, has become a pivotal player in the fate of hostages held by Hamas.
Qatar has taken on the role of intermediary in negotiations aiming to secure the release of more than 200 hostages captured by Hamas in its attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
Qatari mediators also helped broker a deal that has allowed for limited evacuations of foreign passport holders and some critically injured people from the Gaza Strip, which Israel has been pummeling with air strikes since the Hamas attack.
It’s not the first time Qatar has played the role of international mediator.
Qatar helped negotiate the release earlier this year of four Ukrainian children held by Russia, which allowed them to return to their families. A close ally of the U.S., Qatar helped secure the release in 2014 of an American journalist, Peter Theo Curt, who had been held in Syria for two years.
More recently, Qatar played a key role in an agreement between the U.S. and Iran that led to the release in September of five Americans imprisoned in Iran. Iran had accused the Americans of being spies or working on behalf of the U.S. government.
Who are the Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners awaiting release?
Three Americans were among the hostages set for release including 3-year-old Avigail Idan, whose parents were killed during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, as well as two women, according to a senior Biden administration official.
Only four hostages, including two Americans, have been released so far. Israeli forces said they rescued a fifth hostage, a female soldier.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal also included a provision for the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the hostages in captivity.
Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 Palestinians eligible for release from prison, mainly teenagers arrested over the past year for relatively minor offenses such as throwing rocks. The youngest detainee on the list is 14. The list also includes about 40 women. The detainees are to be released to their homes in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.