The first group of hostages have been released after 48 days of captivity as part of the truce deal between Israel and Hamas that went into effect this morning. Thirteen Israeli women and children and 12 Thai hostages, who were kidnapped and taken into Gaza by the terror group in its October 7 attack on Israel, were finally freed today after an agonising wait.
Israeli media reported the hostages had been transferred by Hamas to the Red Cross and then on to the Egyptians. They will next be given to the IDF who will transfer them by helicopter to a hospital in central Israel. Going the other way were 39 Palestinian prisoners – 24 women and 15 teenagers – who are being released by Israel as part of the deal that paused the fighting in the Gaza Strip for the first time in seven weeks which was sparked by Hamas’s attack.
The lists of all civilians that would be released from Gaza has been agreed, but was not released publicly ahead of time. Some 30 children are currently believed to be among the 240 captives who were taken into Gaza by Hamas. Two sources close to Hamas confirmed to AFP news agency that some hostages had been handed over to the Red Cross for return to Israel. ‘Half an hour ago, the prisoners were handed to the Red Cross who will take them to the Egyptians and the Israelis who are due to receive them,’ one of the sources said.
The second source confirmed the handover, AFP reported. It is understood that those involved in the deal are under orders to treat the hostages with the utmost sensitivity. Some of the children held in Gaza since October 7 were orphaned in the attack, and their homes in southern Israel destroyed. It is not known whether they have been told this while in captivity. The fragile four-day truce began at 7am local time (12am ET and 5am GMT), with guns due to be laid down across the region for the first time in almost seven weeks.
Over the four days of the ceasefire, at least 50 hostages are expected to be freed, leaving an estimated 190 in the hands of Palestinian militants. In exchange, 150 Palestinians prisoners are expected to be released. The agreement is also intended to provide additional aid to 2.4 million residents who face shortages of essential goods after Israel tightened a siege of the territory. Around 50 trucks with food aid, along with three fuel trucks and four with gas, entered on Friday morning, said Wael Abu Omar, director of communications on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing point with Egypt.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) said its military has ‘completed its operational preparations according to the defensive positions of the pause’. Despite the truce this morning, smoke continued to rise across Gaza and journalists said artillery fire from inside the enclave carried on for 18 minutes after the ceasefire begun. However, the deal held, and the first group were exchange. There were no further reports of fighting in the hours after the truce began. Officials have admitted the exchange was ‘complicated’. The truce, brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States, brought the first pause in the war since it began. The agreement entailed a ‘complete ceasefire with no attacks from the air or the ground’ and the skies clear of drones to ‘allow for the hostage release to happen in a safe environment’, the Qatari foreign ministry said.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed that a truce was underway with Hamas in Gaza, but that it was a ‘short pause’. Once it ends, Israel will resume the war with full military forces, he said. ‘There will be a short pause and then we will continue operating with full military power. We will not stop until we achieve our goals: the destruction of Hamas and bringing home the hostages from Gaza to Israel there are 240 hostages and it is something we cannot accept and cannot tolerate,’ Gallant said. The IDF also said on X that earlier in the day troops had ‘destroyed a route of underground terrorist tunnels’ and ‘tunnel shafts’ around the Al-Shifa hospital. A spokesman warned in a video that those living in Gaza should know ‘the war is not over yet’ – before demanding they remain in the south of the strip.
Released hostage children will be given ear defenders to protect them from the noise of helicopters taking them to hospital it has emerged. Officials have been worried that the intense shock and experience of travelling on a helicopter may cause anxiety amongst the youngest children set to be freed. Some are said to be only three or four years old and medical staff have been discussing travel arrangements with Israeli Defense Forces officials. Preparations for their arrival have intensified over the last few days with hospitals, medical staff and trauma specialists remaining on standby. They will also be given a hold-all containing clothes, blankets food, wipes, wash bags and – for the children – coloring books and pencils.
In a statement the Israeli Defense Forces said: ‘Over the past day, the IDF completed preparations for receiving the hostages released from captivity in the Gaza Strip upon their return to Israel. The IDF, in coordination with government ministries and security authorities, have prepared to quickly receive the released hostages and give them all the necessary support. As part of the preparations, the IDF has readied several locations dedicated to the initial reception of the released hostages, including with necessary medical provisions and support. After the initial reception and medical treatment, the released hostages will continue to hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families.’
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