The release of hostages held in Gaza has been pushed back 24 hours after Israel and Hamas failed to agree on which captives should be freed first, a Palestinian official said.
Israel agreed on deal that will see 50 women and children kidnapped by Hamas gunmen on October freed during a four-day truce, leaving their families with an agonising wait to see if their loved ones are coming home.
The process of recovering those hostages was expected to start today at 10am (8am GMT) but officials said that no captives would be released until Friday, prolonging their relatives’ torment.
The truce was delayed because Israel and Hamas failed to agree on which hostages would be released first and how, a Palestinian official said, adding that a list of those to be freed had been exchanged by both sides.
Questions were also being raise over Red Cross access to the hostages before they would be released into Egypt, the official, who has knowledge of the negotiation process, said.
Details about when the ceasefire would go into effect would be announced by mediator Qatar ‘in co-ordination with the Egyptians and the Americans, in the coming hours of today,’ he said.
For the exhausted relatives of the hostages, this only prolongs their agony. They have been waiting in torment, not knowing if their loved ones will be among those released.
A Palestinian man carries an injured man as people flee following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday
People mourn as they collect the bodies of Palestinians killed in airstrikes on Wednesday in Khan Younis
Smoke rises after an explosion following an Israeli strike on the northern part of the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel, on Thursday
Among those waiting for news will be London-based father Thomas Hand, whose nine-year-old daughter Emily is among those being held inside the territory
Orit Meir, mother of Almog Meir, cries next to Thomas Hand, father of Emily Hand, at the embassy of Israel in London on November 20
The anguished relatives of the hostages have spoken of their fear that Hamas cannot be trusted, with one exhausted family member saying the terrorists will ‘do everything they can to ruin the deal’.
Israeli officials have said that they would not tell the families in advance to spare them the distress if Hamas were to change their minds or choose to release different relatives when the ceasefire begins.
Last night, Daniel Hagari, the IDF spokesperson, said the release of the hostages, in exchange for 150 Palestinians, was a ‘complicated and not closed process’.
‘The coming days will be characterised by moments of relief and moments of pain,’ Hagari said. ‘They can also include attempts at psychological terrorism by the terrorist organisation.’
Speaking on Thursday morning, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majid bin Mohammed Al Ansari said an announcement on the beginning of the truce could come in the next few hours. Qatar has been mediating in the negotiations on the truce.
‘The negotiations on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,’ Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
‘The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday,’ it said.
White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson said final logistical details for the release were being worked out. ‘That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning,’ Watson said.
News of the delay in the truce broke just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed during a televised news conference to ‘rescue all hostages held by Hamas’ and ‘obliterate’ the terrorist group.
Netanyahu, joined by the two other members of his special war cabinet, also said that following the four-day ceasefire, the war would resume and continue ‘until we achieve all our goals’.
Israel’s goals are to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and return all 240 hostages held captive in Gaza.
Under the terms of the ceasefire agreement, Hamas is to free 50 women and children of the around 240 hostages it is holding in the Gaza Strip over a four-day period, the Israeli government said.
In return, Israel will free 150 Palestinians held in Israeli jails and allow 300 aid trucks into Gaza every day of the ceasefire to get much needed aid to civilians trapped there.
The hostages to be freed in the process are women and children, and the Palestinian prisoners are women and male detainees aged 18 and younger.
There are at least 35 children among the hostages, 18 of them aged 10 and under, according to an AFP count, as well as more than 50 women.
Israel said the exchange would take place in two phases. In a first step, 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are set to be released during the truce. If successful, a second phase could see 150 more Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for another 50 hostages during an extended truce, the Israeli government said.
Netanyahu made no mention of a potential delay in implementation of the agreement during a press conference late on Wednesday. Hanegbi’s statement was released about an hour after the press conference.
Netanyahu, addressing the families of kidnapped Israelis on Wednesday, said that since the beginning of the war, he has not stopped thinking about them and their loved ones. He also reassured them that ‘we will rescue all hostages held by Hamas’.
He also revealed that the truce deal was reached due to the exerted ‘massive military pressure’ on Hamas as well as diplomatic efforts from his government.
Netanyahu (pictured) addressed the families of the hostages and said since the beginning of the war, he has not stopped thinking about them and their loved ones, adding that ‘we will rescue all hostages held by Hamas’
Hospitals across Israel are on standby to receive the 50 or so hostages that will begin to arrive over the next four days when a four-day ceasefire starts at 10am tomorrow (pictured: photos of hostages in Tel Aviv’s Museum of Modern Art)
Israeli troops patrol along a street during a military operation in the northern Gaza Strip amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, on Wednesday
Palestinian children wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are treated at al Aqsa Hospital on Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday
Rescuers look for survivors in the rubble of the al-Agha family home following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis on the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday
Palestinians bury bodies in a mass grave in Khan Yunis cemetery, in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday
He added: ‘I want to be clear. The war is continuing. The war is continuing. We will continue it until we achieve all our goals.’
Although the four-day truce marked the first major diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict, Netanyahu revealed on Wednesday that during the ceasefire, the IDF will prepare to continue the war.
He reiterated: ‘We are winning and we are going to continue to fight until we reach absolute victory.’
It was not immediately clear exactly who will be released from Gaza. Among those waiting for news will be London-based father Thomas Hand, whose nine-year-old Irish-Israeli daughter Emily is among those being held inside the territory.
Mr Hand, who has been petitioning the Israeli government to orchestrate her release, will be hoping and praying that she is among the group of 50.
But for the families of the hostages, they fear that Hamas terrorists cannot be trusted.
Yosi Shnaider, whose cousin Shiri, 30, was abducted with her four-year-old son Ariel and ten-month-old son Kfir, told the BBC he was concerned the deal might not go ahead. ‘I try to be realistic and I know who we’re dealing with. They will do everything they can to ruin even this deal and I’m scared,’ he said.
And Israeli politician Ben Gvir said the release of the hostages sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ that could play into the hands of the terrorists. The far-Right politician said the deal, which will see 150 Palestinians released in exchange for 50 hostages, gives Hamas terrorists everything they wanted.
‘Hamas wanted this truce more than anything,’ Gvir said on Twitter. ‘It also wanted to get ‘rid’ of the women and children in the first stage, because they caused international pressure on it. It wanted to get, in exchange, fuel, the release of terrorists, halting IDF action and even a [reconnaissance] flight ban. It got all of those.’
He also slammed the deal for not securing the release of all hostages held in Gaza, branding it ‘immoral, illogical and very far from enough’ while saying it ‘could and should have been different’.
Meanwhile a British-Israeli woman whose mother was released by Hamas terrorists last month but whose father is still held welcomed the deal to release hostages and insisted it must be ‘women and children first.’
Sharone Lifschitz has been waiting for news which will bring an end to her unbearable heartache.
Her mother Yocheved, 85, was released by Hamas almost four weeks ago but her father Oded, 83, is still being held was ‘hopeful’ of a deal.
Mrs Lifschitz said: ‘Everyone is incredibly anxious at the moment, but I think it must be the children who go first and they shouldn’t be separated from their mothers.
‘But this is all part of Hamas plan to put us through an impossible situation, it’s a form of psychological torture.’
‘All we can do is pray that my father will be released soon because I don’t think he will be able to last much longer, everyone who has some held is completely devastated and we hope this is the start of some good news.’
Hours after Israel approved a hostage swap deal, Maayan Zin, whose daughters are being held in Gaza, struggled to digest the news.
The long-awaited deal, which would initially apply to women and children, has given hope to anguished families desperate for news.
Zin admitted it had let her ‘cautiously’ dare to dream about being reunited with her daughters – eight-year-old Ela and 15-year-old Dafna.
In her most optimistic dreams, she imagines snuggling up with Ela and going on shopping sprees with Dafna to buy ‘crop-tops, mini-skirts, heels and flashy yellow fake nails’, she said while sitting at her home in Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv. Also on the shopping list: a new nose ring.
Since the siblings were snatched, the only proof of life has been a photo published by Hamas on Telegram showing Dafna seated on a mattress in pyjamas with an Arabic caption saying: ‘Better in a prayer robe’. In the picture, the nose ring Dafna normally wore was gone.
‘Yesterday, I had nothing. I was in total darkness. Now I can see a ray of light which warms me. And I’m just waiting,’ Zin said.
Hours after Israel approved a hostage swap deal, Maayan Zin (pictured), whose daughters (left and right) are being held in Gaza, struggled to digest the news
Zin admitted it had let her ‘cautiously’ dare to dream about being reunited with her daughters – eight-year-old Ela (left) and 15-year-old Dafna (right)
In her most optimistic dreams, she imagines snuggling up with Ela and going on shopping sprees with Dafna
One of the paintings in Tel Aviv focuses on four-year-old Raz Asher and states: ‘Time is running out. Bring her home’
Palestinians mourn over the body of a relative during the funeral for six Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the northern occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem on Wednesday
The girls were taken while spending the last few days of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot on kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza border with their father, Zin’s ex-husband Noam.
When the militants stormed the kibbutz, Noam and his partner Dikla were shot dead along with her 17-year-old son Tomer from a previous marriage, their bodies dumped nearby. And the two girls were snatched and taken to Gaza.
Even if the promised release of 50 hostages has given her hope, Zin is trying to remain level-headed.
So far the names of those who are to be freed during the ceasefire have not been published, with the lists of those slated for release only likely to be made available the night before, Israeli officials said.
‘I’m afraid of being disappointed… I don’t want to get ready for them to come home on Thursday only to find out that it’s others who will be coming back,’ Zin said.
‘And I don’t want to be disappointed that other people are coming back either. I want to be able to be happy for them,’ she said, describing herself as ‘cautiously optimistic’.
At this stage, she is only focusing on information directly from the Israeli authorities. ‘If I follow everything going on in the media, I’m likely to fall apart,’ she said.
And she is worried about what her girls might have gone through. ‘Maybe they will come back traumatised, maybe they won’t be able to speak,’ she said. ‘Or maybe they will come back more grown up, or very sad or scared.’
She also wonders what she will say to them. ‘What questions to ask, how to ask them, how often, or maybe whether I should even be asking at all,’ she wonders aloud.
‘I just have no idea what happened to them while they’ve been in captivity.’
Meanwhile, in Gaza, there was no let-up in the fighting early on Thursday.
Israeli aircraft and artillery struck Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis in at least two waves and 15 people were killed, according to reports. Attacks were also reported in several other parts of Gaza, including the Jabalia and Nuseirat camps.
Israel said its forces carried out aerial strikes on over 300 Hamas targets over the past day.
In Israel, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from Gaza blared in communities near the border with the enclave, the military said. There were no reports of damage or injuries.
Since the Hamas attack on southern Israel that surprised the government and shocked Israelis, five hostages have been recovered alive. Israel says 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians and about 240 hostages of different nationalities taken hostage by Islamist gunmen.
In retaliation, Israel has subjected Hamas-ruled Gaza to a siege and relentless bombardment. More than 14,000 Gazans have been killed, around 40% of them children, according to medical officials in the territory.