Israel, Hamas conduct 1st prisoner swap amid humanitarian pause in Gaza

Israel and Hamas on Friday conducted the first prisoner exchange since the start of the conflict on Oct. 7.

The Israeli army announced that 13 hostages released on the first day of the humanitarian pause in the ongoing conflict in Gaza have arrived in Israel.

In a statement, it said that army and Shin bet personnel are currently accompanying the released hostages who are making their way to Israeli hospitals where they will be reunited with their families.

Earlier, Israel confirmed that Hamas handed over 13 Israeli hostages in Gaza to the Red Cross and were taken to the Egyptian side of the border.

“The Israeli hostages are in the hands of the Red Cross,” the Public Israeli Broadcasting Corporation said.

The Israeli hostages will be transferred by helicopters from Egypt to Israel.

In a statement, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said: “During the operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will be at the Israeli Defense Forces Operations Branch control center in Tel Aviv.”

“The Prime Minister and the Defense Minister will closely monitor management of the operation to bring the Israelis who have been released from Hamas captivity back to the country,” the statement added.

The Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa Satellite Channel also confirmed the handover of the Israeli hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Meanwhile, Thailand Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin confirmed that 12 Thai citizens are also released by Hamas.

“Embassy officials are on their way to pick them up in an hour,” Thavisin said on X.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry said that Hamas released 24 Israelis and foreigners in exchange for the release of 39 Palestinians from Israeli prisons, in the first batch of exchange.

“The ICRC (The International Committee of the Red Cross) has received 24 civilians that includes a number of civilian women and children, under the humanitarian truce agreement,” Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said on X.

“Those released include 13 Israeli citizens, some of whom have dual citizenship, in addition to 10 Thai citizens and a Filipino citizen,” Al-Ansari said.

The ICRC also said in a statement: “We are relieved to confirm the safe release of 24 hostages.”

“We have facilitated this release by transporting them from Gaza to the Rafah border, marking the real-life impact of our role as a neutral intermediary between the parties,” the ICRC said.

“It’s a tremendous relief that after enduring weeks of distress, they can finally reunite with their families,” the organization added.

Palestinian prisoners released

Moreover, Israeli authorities released Palestinian prisoners as part of an exchange deal with Hamas.

An Anadolu correspondent in the West Bank said the first batch of 39 Palestinian prisoners was released from the Israeli Ofer prison, west of Ramallah.

Under the Israel-Hamas deal, the prisoners will be released in batches over a period of 4 days.

Israel estimates that at least 239 Israelis are being held by Hamas following the cross-border attack by the Palestinian group on Oct. 7.

The Palestinian death toll from Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip has soared to 14,854, the government media office in the blockaded enclave said Thursday.

The victims include 6,150 children and over 4,000 women, while more than 36,000 people have been injured, it said.

The official Israeli death toll stands at 1,200.

* Writing by Islamuddin Sajid and Ikram Kouachi

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