Israel-Hamas Truce, Release of Hostages and Prisoners Starts Friday
A swap was underway Friday in the Middle East, with the Hamas militant group releasing 13 Israeli women and children and 12 Thai nationals who were abducted in Israel on October 7, while the Israelis were freeing about 150 Palestinian prisoners.
The Israelis were handed over to the Red Cross in the Gaza Strip, which was transporting them to Egypt, according to officials in Jerusalem. The Thai abductees, according to officials in Bangkok and Jerusalem, crossed into Israel on Friday evening and were to undergo health checks at the Shamir Medical Center, southeast of Tel Aviv.
The exchanges come hours after a scheduled four-day truce between Israel and Hamas went into effect. The truce includes a comprehensive cease-fire in north and south Gaza, Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari told journalists in Doha earlier.
According to the deal, 50 women and children who were abducted from Israel by Hamas are to be released in exchange for Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli prisons.
“We all hope that this truce will lead to a chance to start a wider work to achieve a permanent truce,” Al-Ansari said.
Under the current deal, Israel is to pause its attacks on Gaza for four days. Additionally, Hamas confirmed on its Telegram channel that attacks from its forces also would pause.
Israel said the four-day stop in fighting would be extended an extra day for every 10 additional hostages freed by Hamas. The Qatari spokesperson said Doha hopes to broker another agreement to release more hostages from Gaza by the truce’s fourth day. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it could assist with any release.
Israel and Hamas have both said they will return to fighting once the truce concludes.
The truce with Hamas is a “short pause,” after which Israel’s military will resume operating with full force, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Friday just prior to the prisoner exchanges.
The spokesperson of Hamas’ armed wing on Thursday called for the escalation of hostilities with Israel.
“We call for escalation of the confrontation with the occupation throughout the West Bank and all resistance fronts,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said in a speech aired by Al Jazeera TV.
Israel’s military said Thursday it carried out aerial attacks on 300 Hamas targets during the past day, including tunnels, warehouses and anti-tank positions used by the militant group. Operations will continue until troops get the order to stop, an army spokesperson said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to ensure Hamas is unable to attack Israel in the future. He said in a news conference late Wednesday that following the end of a cease-fire period, Israel’s military would resume its campaign in Gaza.
“I want to be clear. The war is continuing. The war is continuing. We will continue it until we achieve all our goals,” Netanyahu said.
Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after the U.S.-designated terrorist group launched a cross-border attack on October 7. Israel said 1,200 people were killed that day and about 240 hostages taken back to Gaza.
Israel announced Thursday it had detained the head of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital for questioning over his role in what it said was the hospital’s use by Hamas as a command center.
International concern has centered on the targeting of Gaza’s hospitals. Hospitals in northern Gaza are no longer functional, the territory’s Health Ministry said.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 13,300 Palestinians, including at least 5,000 children, have been killed in Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military says it has detained more than 1,850 Palestinians in the West Bank since the war began, mostly suspected Hamas members. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed there, mainly during battles triggered by army raids. Attacks by Jewish settlers have also surged.
The pause in fighting will also allow for more humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza. Such assistance has been sharply curtailed since the fighting began.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 80 trucks reached the Palestinian enclave on Wednesday, bringing the total during the past month to 1,479 truckloads of aid. The agency said an average of 10,000 truckloads of commercial and humanitarian commodities were reaching Gaza each month prior to the conflict.
The United Nations said more than 1.7 million people have been displaced within Gaza, including 945,000 people staying at over-capacity U.N.-run shelters.
VOA’s Natasha Mozgovaya contributed to this report. Some information for this story was provided by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.