Hamas releases 13 Israeli hostages from Gaza, Israeli prime minister’s office says


Jerusalem
CNN
 — 

The first groups of Israelis and Palestinians have been released under a truce brokered between Israel and Hamas that brought a temporary halt to fighting in Gaza after weeks of conflict, officials said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed 13 Israeli hostages had returned to Israel on Friday, where they have undergone initial medical assessments.

And Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, which helped broker the agreement, confirmed that the Palestinian prisoners released as part of the deal were on the way to the West Bank.

The Red Cross, which transported the detainees on Friday from Gaza to the Rafah border with Egypt, said 24 hostages had been freed on Friday.

Ten Thai citizens and one Filipino citizen have also been freed under a separate agreement.

Among the Israelis freed are 5-year-old Emilia Aloni and Adina Moshe, who was seen being driven away on a motorbike after being abducted from her kibbutz during the October 7 Hamas attacks.

“They’re now en route to hospitals where they will be reunited with their families – or rather, should I say, what’s left of their families,” Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy told CNN. “Many of them, of course, their families were murdered on October 7.”

Levy said the initial release still left 215 hostages inside Gaza. “None of us here are free until all of them are free. We are committed to that pledge: There will be no one left behind,” he said.

Israel was also due to free 39 Palestinian prisoners in return on Friday. Buses reported to be carrying the 39 released Palestinian women and teenagers have been seen leaving Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank.

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs, said that buses carrying the prisoners were on their way to Ramallah.

Israeli security forces stand next to ambulances waiting outside the helipad of Tel Aviv's Schneider medical centre on November 24, 2023, amid preparations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners later in the day. After 48 days of gunfire and bombardment that claimed thousands of lives, a four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war began on November 24 with 50 hostages set to be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP) (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Israeli group is the first to be released through a deal between the two sides that was finalized after weeks of tense negotiations and took several agonizing days to come into effect.

The agreement, accompanied by a four-day truce between Hamas and Israel, represents a first major diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict.

The released hostages entered Egypt through the Rafah crossing before returning to Israeli soil, where they were taken to local hospitals.

A Red Cross convoy seen entering the Rafah border crossing contained at least four vehicles, each with up to six people sitting in the rear. Pictures from the scene showed at least one woman with white hair waving in the back seat of her vehicle, and another vehicle that appeared to have several Thai men sitting in the back.

The concurrent halt in fighting began at 7 a.m. local time (12 a.m. ET) Friday, and is believed to be holding – the first sustained break in hostilities after nearly seven weeks of conflict.

While Friday saw the first batch of Israeli hostages released, more – totalling 50 women and children – are expected to be exchanged over the course of the truce.

Pressure on the Israeli government had been mounting for weeks from the families of the hostages, who have demanded answers and action from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

International calls for more humanitarian support for the people of Gaza had also been growing, and the truce is expected to give respite to those in the enclave who have endured weeks of attacks. The number of people killed since October 7 now stands at 14,854, according to information from Hamas authorities in the Strip.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Tel Aviv’s Museum of Art – in an area that has gained the name “Hostages Square” among locals – ahead of the announcement, waiting anxiously for confirmation of the hostages’ safe transfer.

Tamar Shamir said she had been visiting the square for weeks to show support for the hostages and their families. While the confirmation of the transfer came as a relief, she said more needed to be done to return all hostages taken by Hamas.

“We are not happy. We cannot be happy until everyone comes back home,” Shamir told CNN.

Residents of Gaza meanwhile began moving across parts of the strip after Friday’s truce began, though some displaced Palestinians trying to return to homes in northern Gaza were allegedly blocked by Israeli forces, a journalist told CNN.

The IDF warned residents against attempting to travel from the south to the north, where combat between Hamas and Israel has been concentrated.

Social media videos showed people running away amid the sound of gunfire, presumed to be Israeli, on Salah Al-Din street. A journalist told CNN that Israeli tanks were seen and gunfire could be heard on Salah Al-Din street.

CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment on whether people attempting to enter north were fired on.

Israel declared war on Hamas following the militant group’s bloody October 7 terror attack on its territory, in which more than 1,200 people were killed – the largest such attack on Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.

Militants were holding more than 200 people captive inside Gaza from mass abductions that day, according to figures from the Israeli military.

This is a developing story. It will be updated

CNN’s Tara John, Kaitlan Collins and Christian Edwards contributed reporting.

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