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Hamas releases 24 hostages, Israel lets out 39 prisoners as four-day ceasefire in Gaza comes into effect

The first group returned as part of the deal between Israel and the militia consisted of women and children as well as Thai workers

Families of the hostages and others watch news broadcasts as captives are released into Egypt before being brought into Israel, outside the Museum of Tel Aviv on November 24, 2023.
Families of the hostages and others watch news broadcasts as captives are released into Egypt before being brought into Israel, outside the Museum of Tel Aviv on November 24, 2023.Alexi J. Rosenfeld (Getty Images)

Following the beginning of a truce between Israel and Hamas, which came into effect Friday morning, the Islamist militia has released the first hostages kidnapped during the October 7 attacks on Israel. The 24 hostages released on Friday include 13 Israelis, 10 Thai citizens and 1 Filipino citizen, according to Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari, who made the announcement on X, formerly Twitter.

Qadura Fares, the Palestinian commissioner for prisoners, told EL PAÍS that 39 Palestinian prisoners have been released from Israeli jails in exchange. Of these, 24 are women and 15 are minors, all from the West Bank.

Qatar, which brokered the prisoner swap agreement and a temporary ceasefire in Gaza, announced the truce would enter into force Friday at 7.00 a.m. local time. As part of the framework of the deal, a spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry, Majed Al Ansari, quoted by Reuters, also announced that Hamas would release 13 of the approximately 240 Israeli hostages captured predominantly by the Palestinian militia and Islamic Jihad, at 4 p.m. local time.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant were at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, the headquarters of the Israeli army, to oversee the release of the 13 Israeli hostages, who were expected to leave Gaza along with the Thai and Filipino captives on Friday afternoon. According to Israeli media, the hostages are already in the care of the Red Cross and being moved to the Rafah crossing, which connects the south of the Gaza strip with Egypt. The head of government information in Egypt said Friday the authorities are “preparing now” to receive the hostages released by Hamas “in preparation for their transfer to the Israeli side.”

The Thai hostages released by Hamas are part of a group of 23 Thai nationals kidnapped on October 7 and represent the largest group of foreigners among the captives. Thirty-two other foreign nationals were killed during the militia attacks on Israel. About 30,000 Thais live and work in Israel, mainly in the agricultural sector.

50 Israeli hostages for 150 Palestinian prisoners

The agreement between Israel and Hamas is for 50 of the Israeli captives to be returned over the course of the four-day ceasefire in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. In both cases, those released will be mainly women and children, as confirmed by Al Ansari. “If there were a group of hostages from the same family they will be released together in this first batch,” said the Qatari spokesman, who did not offer details on the Palestinian prisoners who will benefit from the exchange.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari specified that troops in Gaza would remain behind a “ceasefire line” during the truce but did not provide details of where this would be located. “These will be complicated days and nothing is certain... Even during this process there could be changes,” Hagari said as quoted by Reuters, before adding that control of northern Gaza “is the first step of a long war, and we are preparing for the next stages.”

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades, on Thursday night referred to the “temporary truce” with Israel in a video message in which he also called for an escalation of the confrontation “on all fronts of resistance,” including in the occupied West Bank.

Al Ansari had stated hours earlier that compliance with the terms of the truce and the prisoner exchange will be monitored from a coordination center in Doha. Qatar will maintain, he said, “a very clear line of communication” with Israel, the Hamas political office in Doha and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Al Ansari stressed that this monitoring center will ensure that “the environment which the hostage transfer will happen will be a safe one.”

Qatar hopes to negotiate an extension of the agreement to release additional Israeli captives before the fourth day of the ceasefire expires. “We all hope that this truce will lead to a chance to start a wider work to achieve a permanent truce,” Al Ansari said. Israel, for its part, has left the door open for a possible extension of the temporary cessation of hostilities, of an additional day for every 10 further hostages released by militias in Gaza.

In addition to the exchange of prisoners and the ceasefire the truce, which represents the biggest diplomatic milestone in the conflict so far, includes allowing the entry of hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza via Egypt.

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