Time window for short-term cease-fire in Israel-Hamas war opens, but rocket alarms blare near Gaza

An initial four-day cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas took effect Friday morning in Gaza, part of a deal that calls for Hamas to free at least 50 hostages and Israel to release dozens of Palestinians from its prisons. Israel’s military sounded alarms in several villages near Gaza just minutes after the short-term truce began, warning of possible incoming rocket fire, but there was no immediate word of ongoing violence between Israeli forces and Hamas, leaving hope that the first hostage releases under the deal would still go forward later Friday.

The cease-fire got underway at 7 a.m. local time, which is midnight on the U.S. East Coast. The Israeli military did not make any official announcement at that time but said in a statement less than two hours later that it had “completed its operational preparations according to the combat lines of the pause.”

A spokesperson stressed in a social media post just minutes after 7 a.m. local time that the suspension of hostilities was temporary, and “the war is not over yet.” 

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee warned that the northern Gaza Strip remained “a dangerous war zone and it is forbidden to move around” there, adding that people in the decimated Palestinian territory “must remain in the humanitarian zone in the south of the Strip” and only move toward that area on one designated road, adding that “the movement of residents from the south of the Strip to the north will not be allowed in any way.”

Displaced Palestinians return to their homes as they pass by a house destroyed in an Israeli strike during the conflict, amid the temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis
Displaced Palestinians leave to try to return to their homes, passing by a house destroyed in an earlier Israeli airstrike, during a short-term cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, Nov. 24, 2023, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip.

MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS


Israeli troops open fire as displaced Palestinians try to go home

CBS News producer Marwan al-Ghoul saw Israeli forces open fire Friday on Palestinians who decided to risk heading back to their homes in northern Gaza despite leaflets dropped by the IDF warning them against it. Al-Ghoul said thousands of displaced civilians left the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis to head back north, but when they reached a crossover point in central Gaza, they encountered a line of Israeli tanks and were fired on by Israeli forces. 

Israel’s military told CBS News it was looking into reports that several people were injured in the encounter.  

Al-Ghoul said between 4,000 and 5,000 people had set off from Khan Younis, and some of them told CBS News they felt hopeless as nowhere in the Gaza Strip felt safe, and they just wanted to get back home.  

Video shot by CBS News showed panicked civilians running back away from the Israeli forces at the crossing point as machinegun fire was heard.

Hamas expected to free some Israeli hostages Friday

An initial batch of 13 hostages being held by Hamas militants were slated to be released at 4 p.m. local time Friday (9 a.m. Eastern), according to a Qatar foreign ministry spokesperson. The names of those hostages were provided to Israeli authorities on Thursday, the Qatari official said.

The Red Cross would be involved in the hostage handover, but the exact location it would take place was being kept secret for security reasons, the official added. According to Qatari officials, children will be released with their mothers and won’t be separated. 

“We welcome the announcement from Qatar and expect to see a number of hostages coming out of Gaza tomorrow,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News Thursday night.

Under the terms of the deal brokered earlier this week with the help of the U.S., Egypt and Qatar, 50 hostages — all women and children who were kidnapped by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel — will be freed in batches over four days. They are among an estimated 240 captives who are still believed to be held in Gaza. Three American hostages are expected to be among those 50, per a senior Biden administration official. 

In a message shared on social media, Israel’s air force showed photos of a military transport plane ready to ferry the freed hostages, with empty seats holding ear covers, some for adults and others for children, to shield them from the noise of the aircraft. 

“Today is the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel,” the air force said in its post, calling it a “great privilege” to be in helping in “the important task of returning the abductees home.”  

When asked by reporters Thursday whether the youngest American hostage, Abigail Mor Idan — whose fourth birthday is Friday — would soon be released, President Biden responded: “fingers crossed.” Both of Idan’s parents were gunned down by Hamas. 

In exchange for the hostages, the Israeli military agreed to the four-day pause in the war as well as the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners, most of them women and children, who are being held in Israeli prisons.

“Of course, our aim is for this deal to end with a lasting truce,” said Majed Al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, at a news conference Thursday. “Right now, of course, the confines of this deal are these four days that are subject to a second phase, and following phases of expanding the pause through the formula of getting more hostages out, and therefore getting more time for the parties. We are hoping that momentum will carry, and that we would find this would open the door for further and more deep negotiations towards an end to this violence.”

The Israeli government said in a statement Tuesday that the release of “every 10 additional hostages” on top of those 50 “will result in one additional day in the pause.”

Up to this point, only four Hamas hostages have been released, two Americans and two Israelis.

Al Ansari said he expected the release of Palestinian prisoners to follow closely after that of the Gaza hostages. According to Palestinian prisoner rights’ groups, there are an estimated 7,000 Palestinians currently jailed in Israel, including over 200 Palestinian children and about 75 women, with dozens arrested in the past few weeks alone.

Samaher Aouad’s daughter, Norhan, is on Israel’s list of jailed Palestinians who might be freed as part of the deal. Norhan was arrested at age 15 for the attempted stabbing of an Israeli soldier nine years ago.
 
“The Israeli occupation stole her childhood and that’s what I feel sad about,” Aouwad told CBS News. “No one can replace her childhood.”

Aid trucks started moving into Gaza within a couple hours of the cease-fire taking effect, through southern Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt. The Reuters news agency had a live camera position at the Rafah crossing that showed trucks carrying fuel moving through the border gate into Gaza. 

Diaa Rashwan, chairman of Egypt’s State Information Service, said in a statement early Friday morning that about 34,000 gallons of fuel would enter Gaza every day during the cease-fire, along with about 200 trucks carrying food, medicine and water. 

“The need is so great, that no matter how much aid you are going to bring in, there will be certainly more need for aid,” Al-Ansari said in Qatar. 

At kibbutz Nir Oz, Noam and Lior Peri knew their 79-year-old father Chaim would not be among the first hostages released.

“It is really hard to think how he’s coping, how he’s dealing with those, probably days and nights that he doesn’t even know where he is, what time is it,” Noam told CBS News.

 “I have huge faith that I will see him again,” Lior added. 

The fighting in Gaza has been unrelenting since Hamas launched its bloody terror attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says almost 15,000 people have since been killed in Gaza by Israel’s retaliatory ground incursion and airstrikes, and the U.N. estimates that 1.7 million of the enclave’s roughly 2.3 million inhabitants have been displaced from their homes.

Imtiaz Tyab, Margaret Brennan, Khaled Wassef, Holly Williams, Lilia Luciano, Jordan Freiman and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report. 

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