Israel-Hamas truce comes into force, as first 13 Israeli hostages set to be freed

Temporary pause in fighting takes effect at 7 a.m., with group of Israeli children and women to be handed over at 4 p.m.; almost all were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz

A woman looks at photographs of hostages held in Gaza displayed in Ramat Gan on November 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A woman looks at photographs of hostages held in Gaza displayed in Ramat Gan on November 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The temporary truce between Israel and Hamas went into effect Friday at 7 a.m. on Friday, while a first group of 13 Israeli hostages was set to be freed by the terror group on Friday at 4 p.m.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Thursday that Israel had received an “initial” list of names of abductees expected to go free, and that families of those set to return Friday had been updated, as had relatives of those whose names did not appear. Almost all of the 13 — children and women — were reported to be from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

Hamas’s military wing confirmed Thursday that a ceasefire would go into effect Friday morning, and last four days. “In four days, 50 [hostages] will be released,” Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades said, confirming information from Israel that three jailed Palestinian terror convicts would be freed in exchange for every Israeli hostage, totaling 150.

It had previously been understood that the pause in fighting would begin only after the first group of Israeli hostages was released.

The deal, which was mediated by Qatar and the US, would see Hamas release 50 Israeli women and children it took hostage on October 7, over the course of four days, in exchange for a lull in the fighting during those four days and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for terror offenses, all of them women or minors.

The deal will also enable an influx of fuel and humanitarian supplies to Gaza during the pause, which would be the first cessation of fighting since Hamas sparked the war nearly seven weeks ago when its terrorists rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, massacring some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking 240 hostages.

Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari gives details of a planned hostage release, at a press conference in Doha, November 23, 2023 (CNN screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson, Majed al-Ansari said Thursday afternoon that Doha had received the list of names of the civilians the terror group would free on the first day of the deal.

The deal had originally been expected to take effect Thursday morning, before being suddenly put off late on Wednesday night, with Israel’s National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi stating that the release of the hostages would not start before Friday. This led to speculation throughout Thursday as to the cause.

Having planned to stop combat operations on Thursday, Israel indicated it would continue as usual until the deal came into effect.

Ahead of the Qatari announcement, an unverified report from the BBC had claimed that Hamas was using the opportunity to make fresh demands, but did not specify what they were.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the new demands set forward by Hamas included a stipulation that the hostages released from Gaza be transferred directly to Egypt, rather than to the Red Cross, as previously stated. A reason was not provided.

Following news of the delay, spokesman al-Ansari said Qatar was continuing to work, along with the US, to “ensure the rapid start of the truce and to provide what is necessary to ensure the parties’ commitment to the agreement.”

Although Israel has given no public reason as to why the deal was delayed, several unconfirmed reports have emerged.

Speaking to CNN, one Israeli official dismissed the delay as the result of “fairly minor implementation deals.” The United States echoed the claim, and Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, told the Wall Street Journal that the relevant parties were merely ironing out the “final logistical details,” adding that the US’s primary objective was to ensure that the hostages were brought home safely.

Egyptian officials told the Wall Street Journal that Hamas’s failure to provide a full list of hostage names to be released, as well as its failure to sign off on the deal, were the cause of the delay.

Pictures of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza hang outside a shop in Jerusalem, November 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking to AFP on Thursday morning, a Palestinian official said that a dispute regarding the involvement of the Red Cross in the deal was partially responsible for the delay.

The official, who is close to the negotiations, said that questions were raised over Red Cross access to the hostages before they were released into Egypt, and whether the Red Cross would have access to the hostages who remain in Gaza, a clause which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted was included in the deal, but which has not been confirmed. The Red Cross has said it was unaware of such an agreement.

Demonstrators calling upon the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to take action for the release of hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 and currently held in the Gaza Strip, outside the ICRC offices in Tel Aviv on November 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Speaking to UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron during his wartime visit to Israel on Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu was confident that the deal would go through.

“We hope to get our hostages out — it’s not without its challenges, but we hope to get this first tranche out and then we’re committed to getting everyone out,” he said.

Israel is also hopeful that the final number of hostages released by Hamas over the lull will end up being higher than the original 50 specified by the deal. Hamas has said it will use the pause to try to locate more women and children held by various cells, and the sides have agreed that each additional 10 hostages freed would lead to another day of calm. Israeli officials believe that the terror group could potentially locate some 30 more Israeli mothers and children.

As the deal is currently understood, once it comes into effect, each group of hostages released by Hamas every day will be transferred to Israel via one of Gaza’s border crossings.

Upon receiving proof that the hostages released are the Israeli citizens specifically agreed upon, Israel will release its pre-designated group of Palestinian prisoners.

After being received on the Israeli side, the freed hostages will be given a brief medical examination and then flown to hospitals, where they are to be reunited with their families.

Israel has promised not to initiate military action during the lull but has said that should Hamas violate the ceasefire and attack soldiers stationed throughout the northern part of the Gaza Strip, troops would be permitted to retaliate.

Israel intends to use the pause in fighting in order to plan for the war’s next steps.

Israel’s war cabinet has pledged to continue its war effort — with the declared aims of destroying Hamas and securing the return of all hostages — after the pause in fighting lapses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz address a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

During a Wednesday evening press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar could “try all kinds of tricks” and said that the government was prepared for that eventuality.

He stressed that the ceasefire agreed upon with Hamas did not apply to Hamas chiefs abroad, saying that there was “no such obligation.” And he said he had “instructed the Mossad to act against the heads of Hamas wherever they are.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant echoed Netanyahu’s warning.

“You can convey to [Hamas leaders] that they are living on borrowed time,” he told a reporter. “As far as I’m concerned, the fight against Hamas spans the entire globe, from the terrorists who travel with a Kalashnikov in fatigues and battle [our] soldiers in the field to those who travel in luxury planes and enjoy themselves while the actions of their emissaries are perpetrated against women and children. They all face death.”

ToI staff contributed to this article.

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