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Israeli soldiers are seen during a ground operation in the Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo
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Israel-Hamas ceasefire to begin tomorrow morning, Qatar says

It is not clear if Irish-Israeli nine-year-old Emily Hand will be among the hostages released tomorrow.

A PAUSE IN the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza will start tomorrow morning with the first hostages to be released hours later, mediator Qatar said, after nearly seven weeks of fighting.

The truce is set to begin at 7am tomorrow local time (5am Irish time).

Families of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and of Palestinians detained by Israel were forced to wait an extra day after the breakthrough four-day truce deal was put on hold.

“The pause will begin at 7am on Friday … and the first batch of civilian hostages will be handed over at approximately 4pm on the same day,” Dr Majed Al Ansari, the official spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said.

He added that 13 people will be freed in the first group.

The Ministry also confirmed on X, formerly Twitter, that the list of hostages that will be released has been handed to the Israeli Intelligence Services. 

Earlier, Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi indicated the release of at least 50 Israeli and foreign hostages held by Hamas was still on track, but would not happen today as expected.

“The contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,” he said in a statement.

“The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday.”

A Palestinian official told AFP today that the delay in implementation of the truce was due to “last minute” details over which hostages would be released and how.

The truce had been put back over “the names of the Israeli hostages and the modalities of their release”, said the official, who has knowledge of the negotiation process.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich said it is her understanding that “some technicalities” need to be agreed on before implementing the truce. 

The complex and carefully choreographed deal saw Israel and Hamas agree a four-day truce, during which at least 50 hostages taken in the Palestinian militant group’s deadly 7 October attacks would be released.

Emily Hand

It is believed Irish-Israeli nine-year-old Emily Hand is among the hostages in Gaza, captured by Hamas – but it is not clear if she will be among those released tomorrow. 

While there were reports carried by some outlets yesterday that Emily was on an official list of hostages to be released, no announcement has yet been made by the Israeli government regarding the identities of the first hostages expected to be freed.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “It’s a rapidly developing situation and it’s hard to get accurate information from day to day and hour to hour.”

He said that “it is our understanding that there will be a four-day ceasefire from tomorrow”.

“That will allow 50 hostages to be released by Palestinian militant groups. We believe among those will be Emily Hand but that’s not confirmed at this stage,” Varadkar said.

“We’re certainly hoping that she’ll be at home with her father in the next couple of days,” he said.

But crucially, I hope it’s a glimmer of hope and a window of opportunity to have a more lasting ceasefire because there’s no military solution to this conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. We need to start talking about peace and a two-state solution.

Erlich said she is “hoping” for Hand’s release, adding: “I know how much the Irish people are worried and are praying with her family for her release.” 

For every 10 additional hostages released, there would be an extra day’s “pause” in fighting, an Israeli government document said.

In turn, Israel would release at least 150 Palestinian women and children and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. 

palestinians-search-for-survivors-of-the-israeli-bombing-in-rafah-gaza-strip-wednesday-nov-22-2023-ap-photohatem-ali Palestinians search for survivors of the Israeli bombing in Rafah, Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

‘We are winning’

The agreement has been approved by Hamas leaders and by Israel – despite fierce opposition from some within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir described the deal as a “historic mistake” that would embolden Hamas and risk the lives of Israeli troops.

Around 240 hostages were taken by Hamas and other Palestinian gunmen during bloody raids into Israel on 7 October, which also killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

Hamas is an Islamic militant group who are deemed a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, among other powers. It has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning the 2006 Palestinian elections and taking power by force.

The attack prompted a blistering Israeli offensive into Hamas-run Gaza, which authorities there say has killed more than 14,000 people, thousands of them children.

Netanyahu has backed the agreement with Hamas, but vowed the truce will be temporary and will not end the campaign to destroy Hamas.

231119-tel-aviv-nov-19-2023-xinhua-israeli-prime-minister-benjamin-netanyahu-speaks-at-a-press-conference-in-tel-aviv-israel-on-nov-18-2023-currently-there-is-no-deal-reached-yet-on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In Washington, the White House said President Joe Biden had spoken to Netanyahu yesterday and “emphasised the importance of maintaining calm along the Lebanese border as well as in the West Bank”.

The White House has pressed Israel not to escalate clashes with Hezbollah, for fear of sparking a war that could drag in US and Iranian forces.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron is in Israel today where he visited Kibbutz Be’eri, scene of some of the worst violence during the Hamas assault.

Food shortages

Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of air strikes, and the territory faces shortages of food, water and fuel.

For now, Israel appeared to be pushing on with its offensive in northern Gaza, with witnesses reporting strikes on Kamal Adwan hospital and nearby homes.

Medical workers treated bloodied, dust-covered survivors as other residents fled through debris-strewn streets to safety.

At Gaza’s biggest hospital, the Al-Shifa, Israeli soldiers escorted journalists to a tunnel shaft they said was part of a vast underground network Hamas uses for military purposes – a claim Hamas denies.

Israeli forces have arrested Al-Shifa’s director Mohammad Abu Salmiya along with other medical personnel, another doctor and chief of department at the hospital, Khalid Abu Samra, told AFP.

Includes reporting by Hayley Halpin, Órla Ryan, Press Association and © AFP 2023