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People in Tel Aviv react to news of the release of 13 Israeli hostages held by Hamas Alamy Stock Photo
Ceasefire

Hamas frees first group of hostages as Gaza truce takes hold

Qatar confirmed Hamas released a total of 24 hostages and that Israel had freed 39 women and children from its prisons.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 24th 2023, 8:49 PM

HAMAS TODAY FREED a first batch of hostages seized in the deadliest attack in Israel’s history under a deal that saw a temporary truce take hold in war-ravaged Gaza.

Thirteen Israeli hostages captured during Palestinian militants’ cross-border raids were back in Israeli territory where they would undergo medical checks before being reunited with their families, the army said.

They included four children and six elderly women, an official Israeli list showed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring all the hostages home.

“This is one of the goals of the war, and we are committed to achieving all the goals of the war,” he said.

A convoy of Red Cross vehicles was earlier seen crossing the border between Gaza and Egypt, with some of the passengers waving, after Hamas handed over the hostages to the humanitarian organisation.

Israel is set to free three times as many Palestinian prisoners – women and teenage boys – under a deal that followed weeks of talks involving Israel, Palestinian militant groups, Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Key mediator Qatar confirmed Hamas today released a total of 24 hostages and that Israel had freed 39 women and children from its prisons.

an-israeli-prison-transport-vehicle-carries-palestinian-prisoners-released-by-the-israeli-authorities-from-ofer-military-prison-near-jerusalem-on-friday-nov-24-2023-the-release-came-on-the-first-d Israeli prison transport vehicle carries Palestinian prisoners released by the Israeli authorities from Ofer military prison near Jerusalem Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“Those released include 13 Israeli citizens, some of whom are dual citizens, in addition to 10 Thai citizens and a Filipino citizen,” its foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al Ansari said.

Hamas released a two-minute video later today showing masked militants wearing the green headband of its armed wing handing hostages over to Red Cross officials.

US President Joe Biden said today’s release was just a “start” and that there were “real” chances to extend the temporary truce in Gaza.

Speaking to reporters in Massachusetts, where he was spending the Thanksgiving holiday, Biden urged a broader effort to emerge from the crisis with a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Pictures released by the Israeli army showed bright pink and blue headphones sitting on the seats of a helicopter ready for the released hostages to use, along with toys and teddy bears waiting at a reception centre where they were being taken.

Hamas broke through Gaza’s militarised border with Israel on 7 October to kill, according to Israeli officials, about 1,200 people and seize around 240 Israeli and foreign hostages.

During a four-day truce, at least 50 hostages are expected to be freed.

In exchange, 150 Palestinians prisoners are expected to be released.

Of the 39 prisoners released today, 28 were freed in the occupied West Bank, an AFP correspondent reported, while the other 11 were brought to annexed east Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.

Those released in the West Bank were greeted by large crowds and fire crackers that lit up the night sky. In east Jerusalem, Israeli police issued orders banning celebrations.

“The police are in our house and are stopping people coming to see us,” said Fatina Salman, whose daughter Malak, now 23, was among those released.

It is believed Irish-Israeli nine-year-old Emily Hand is among the hostages in Gaza, captured by Hamas.

Some outlets yesterday reported that Emily was not expected to be among the first group of hostages released by Hamas today.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Prime Time last night in Tel Aviv, former Israeli diplomat Lasha Shakulashvili said: “These people will not be allowed to make comments to with the media. It’s very strict. They will be taken to medical facilities.”

Shakulashvili told the programme that the 50 hostages will include 30 children, 12 mothers and eight elderly women.

He added that it’s “very important” that Hamas fulfils this agreement, brokered by Qatari mediators.

Rafah Crowds of supporters and press gather at the Rafah crossing, which borders Southern Gaza and Egypt. Sky News Sky News

‘Going home’

The pause in fighting in Gaza triggered a mass movement of thousands of people who had sought refuge in schools and hospitals from relentless Israeli bombardment begun after attacks by Hamas militants.

“I’m going home,” Omar Jibrin, 16, told AFP after he emerged from a hospital in the south of the Gaza Strip where he and eight family members had sought refuge.

In Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza where many Palestinians fled, a cacophony of car horns and ambulance sirens has replaced the sound of war.

For Khaled al-Halabi, the truce is “a chance to breathe” after nearly seven weeks of war.

Israel’s retaliatory air, artillery and naval strikes alongside a ground offensive have killed about 15,000 people, most of them civilians, the Hamas government in Gaza said.

Gazans have struggled to survive with shortages of water and other essentials.

Trucks carrying aid, including fuel, food and medicine, began moving into Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt shortly after the truce began at 7:00 am (05:00 Irish time).

A total of 200 aid trucks passed through today – the biggest humanitarian convoy to enter the besieged territory since the war started – according to the Israeli defence ministry body that handles Palestinian civil affairs.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA, expressed hope that the pause “leads to a longer-term humanitarian ceasefire”.

The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.

In Khan Yunis, they loaded belongings onto carts, strapped them to car roofs, or slung bags over their shoulders, crowding streets to return to their homes from temporary shelters.

Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people that the war is not over and it is “very dangerous” to return north, the focus of Israel’s military campaign.

heli Helicopter that will transport the hostages back into Israel. IDF Spokesperson IDF Spokesperson

Carefully prepared

Ziv Agmon, legal adviser to Netanyahu’s office, told reporters before the hostages were freed that they would be received individually or in groups by the Red Cross, taken across the border and handed to the Israeli army.

From El-Arish, in the Sinai, they would be flown to Israel, an Egyptian security source said.

Agmon said soldiers had been carefully prepared to receive potentially deeply traumatised women and children.

After medical examinations, the former captives will be able to telephone family members before reunions later at Israeli medical facilities, he added.

AFP has confirmed the identities of 210 of the roughly 240 hostages.

At least 35 of those seized were children, with 18 of them aged 10 or under at the time of their abduction.

palestinians-try-to-cross-back-into-northern-gaza-as-an-israeli-tank-blocked-the-salah-al-din-road-in-the-central-gaza-strip-on-friday-nov-24-2023-as-the-temporary-ceasefire-went-into-effect-ap Palestinians try to cross back into northern Gaza as an Israeli tank blocked the Salah al-Din road in the central Gaza Strip today. Alamy Alamy

Hamas earlier released four women and Israeli forces rescued another. Two other captives, including a woman soldier, were found dead by Israeli troops in Gaza.

Maayan Zin, whose eight- and 15-year-old daughters Ela and Dafna are among the hostages, posted on social media platform X that she had been informed their names were not on the list of those due to be released.

“This is incredibly difficult for me; I long for their return,” she wrote.

-© AFP 2023