Israel-Hamas deal goes into effect, first hostages and prisoners released

Israel and Hamas’s deal for a temporary ceasefire went into effect Friday morning, triggering a pause in hostilities and the resumption of the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Hamas also released the first round of hostages, with Israel releasing the first round of Palestinian prisoners shortly thereafter.

Israel confirmed on social media that 13 Israeli hostages were released, including four children, four of their family members and five elderly women. Israeli media reported that hospital officials said most hostages were in good health. Hamas also released ten Thai citizens and one Filipino citizen in a surprise deal announced by Qatar, who negotiated the Israel-Hamas deal.

The news brought joy and relief to many in Israel, mixed with fear for the more than 200 people still held hostage and apprehension about the future. Many family members of hostages yet to be released expressed hope, but said this is only a first step. The niece of one hostage told The Guardian:

There is a great deal that we still don’t know, we don’t know what the physical or mental condition of these people is. We recognise that even for these families, this is not a simple happy ending; there may be children who have been separated from their fathers, and elderly women separated from their elderly husbands, but it certainly brings joy and hope.

As part of its deal with Hamas, Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners, including 22 women and 17 minors. The prisoners released were arrested for a number of reasons, mostly related to security or traveling without a permit. B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights and advocacy groups, says that Israel has more than 4,700 Palestinians detained in prisons for security reasons as of September. Groups like B’Tselem and Amnesty International have criticized this practice, raising recent concerns about the treatment of detainees, the use of administrative detention and the increase in arrests since October 7.

Palestinian families said the release of their loved ones brought some relief, but expressed concern about conditions in Gaza and the looming return of hostilities. Ismail Shaheen’s 32-year-old daughter was among the prisoners released. She was arrested earlier this year, accused of an attempted stabbing. He said, “Thank God she was released in this exchange deal. We were happy that she was going to be released but only slightly so, because we cannot ignore the dire conditions of our brothers in Gaza, where thousands have been killed.”

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross welcomed the beginning of the pause, announcing that a large amount of humanitarian aid entered Gaza. This is a big relief for Gazan civilians, who have been enduring conditions that the World Health Organization called “catastrophic.” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said that the influx of aid into Gaza is “a significant humanitarian breakthrough” and that “more assistance and supplies must enter the [Gaza] Strip safely and continuously to alleviate the immense suffering of civilians.”

This comes more than a month into Israel’s war with Hamas, which started after Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel. On that day, Hamas killed more than 1,200 people—mostly civilians—and took more than 200 hostage in Gaza. International law experts have said that this, along with rocket attacks targeting civilian areas, constitutes war crimes, and families of October 7 victims filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging genocide.

Human rights groups have also accused Israel of war crimes for its response, which has killed more than 14,000 people in Gaza—again, mostly civilians. They point to attacks on places like medical facilities and refugee camps, the high number of journalist deaths and restrictions on humanitarian aid, food, water and fuel. Israel has rejected these claims, saying Hamas embeds themselves in civilian locations. A group of five countries submitted a referral to the ICC, and Palestinian rights groups filed their own complaint alleging genocide.

The deal pauses hostilities for four days and will include further releases of hostages and prisoners. Israel said that they received a list of names for release on Saturday from Hamas. There is a possibility for extension: Israel will extend the pause one day for every 10 additional hostages released. US President Joe Biden said he was hopeful about this extension; both Israel and Hamas have expressed readiness to continue fighting.

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