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First batch of hostages released by Hamas under truce, including 13 Israelis

First batch of hostages released by Hamas under truce, including 13 Israelis

Red Cross vehicles carrying hostages released by Hamas crosses Rafah border (photo: Mohammed Abed /AFP)

Gaza Strip: 13 Israelis who had been held in the Gaza Strip since Hamas launched an attack on Israel almost seven weeks ago were among the first hostages to be freed by Hamas under the terms of a cease-fire agreement that went into effect on Friday, according to authorities and media reports.

According to Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, twelve Thai nationals were also set free. Israel is reportedly expecting to release dozens of Palestinian prisoners.

Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire on Friday, which allowed for the exchange and the entry of much-needed aid into Gaza.

After the ceasefire, there were no reports of fighting. Families in Israel concerned about loved ones taken during Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, which sparked the war, as well as the 2.3 million residents of Gaza, who have suffered weeks of Israeli bombardment and diminishing supply of basic necessities, found some relief from the agreement, AFP reported.

With large portions of Gaza destroyed, a spike in violence in the occupied West Bank, and concerns about a wider conflict spanning the Middle East, the truce raised optimism that the conflict would eventually come to an end. On the other hand, Israel has declared that whenever the cease-fire is lifted, it will undoubtedly resume its overwhelming assault.

The agreement called for the release of at least 50 of the roughly 240 hostages that Hamas and others took during the raid on October 7. Hamas said that Israel will release 150 Palestinian prisoners in return.

13 Israelis were freed as planned on Friday, as reported by Israeli media, citing security officials. Both parties had agreed to release women and children first, in stages. Meanwhile, an Israeli official verified that the Thai prisoners had left Gaza and were travelling to an Israeli hospital. The officer was not authorised to discuss the releases with the media and, therefore spoke under anonymity.

According to Israel, the agreement stipulates that the ceasefire will be prolonged by one day for every ten prisoners that are freed.

Ambulances were observed arriving at the southern Israeli air base of Hatzerim early in the day in preparation for the release. Israeli officials indicated that those who have been freed will thereafter be brought to hospitals for evaluation and care.

According to a Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to share the facts with the media, several of the freed Israeli individuals hold dual nationality.

A list of 300 Palestinian prisoners who are eligible for release was published by Israel's Ministry of Justice. Thirty-nine people were set to be released on Friday, according to Palestinian officials. They included 15 teenagers and 24 women who were imprisoned for offences including throwing stones, and some of whom were found guilty of attempted murder for attacks on Israeli forces.

After weeks of daily artillery fire, intense bombing, and street fighting in Gaza as ground forces advanced into northern neighbourhoods, the truce provided calm to the area on Friday. Shortly after the truce went into force, there was one last report of air raid sirens in Israeli towns close to the region.

Soon after, according to Israel, four tankers carrying cooking gas and four carrying fuel arrived in the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

During the ceasefire, Israel has consented to let the transport of 130,000 litres (34,340 gallons) of fuel each day; this amount still represents a very minor fraction of Gaza's anticipated daily needs of over 1 million litres.

Although it has occasionally permitted small amounts to enter, Israel has prohibited fuel from entering Gaza for the majority of the previous seven weeks of the conflict on the grounds that Hamas would use it for military purposes.

UN relief organisations refuted the assertion, stating that fuel supplies were continuously monitored and desperately needed to prevent a humanitarian disaster since fuel is needed to operate generators, which power hospitals, water treatment plants, and other vital infrastructure.

Thousands of Palestinians who had fled to southern Gaza were warned by the Israeli military not to go back to their homes in the northern part of the enclave, which was the target of Israel's ground offensive.

On Friday, hundreds of Palestinians were observed walking north, despite Israel's warning that it would block such attempts.

Israeli forces fired and killed two, and injured another eleven. As the injured and the two bodies arrived at a hospital, an Associated Press correspondent witnessed them.

After leaving Gaza City, Sofian Abu Amer said he decided to go north to check on his house.

“We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” he said. ”The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.”

The hope is that “momentum” from the deal will lead to an “end to this violence,” said Majed Al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which served as a mediator along with the United States and Egypt

However, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was quoted as assuring troops that their break would be brief and that the war would continue with intensity for at least two more months, just hours before it went into force.

Along with vowing to carry on the assault, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also promised to remove Hamas' 16-year control in Gaza, eliminate its military capabilities, and release all hostages.

There was also silence on Israel's northern border with Lebanon on Friday, one day after Hamas's allies, the Hezbollah group, launched the most strikes in a single day since hostilities there started on October 8.

Although Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire, it was widely anticipated that it would stop attacking.

The conflict started when thousands of Hamas militants invaded southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people—mostly civilians—and detaining countless others, including women, children, senior citizens and soldiers—as hostages.

The Islamic Jihad militant group, which is allegedly holding roughly 40 hostages, claims that the soldiers would only be freed in exchange for all Palestinians detained by Israel.

It's unclear how many of the captives are active military personnel at this time or if the extremists also view reserve soldiers as "military hostages."

An advocacy group called the Palestinian Prisoners' Club claims that Israel is now imprisoned 7,200 Palestinians on security-related charges or convictions, with over 2,000 of them having been arrested since the war began.

According to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which began its thorough casualty count in Gaza after pausing for weeks due to the collapse of the northern health system, the Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians.

It is estimated by the government that 6,000 individuals are missing and may be buried beneath debris.

The ministry's death tolls do not distinguish between militants and civilians. Although the new figure was not broken down, women and minors have regularly made up about two-thirds of the deaths. The figure does not contain the most recent data from northern hospitals.

Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters, but it has not provided any evidence for its claims.

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TAGS:HamasGaza stripIsrael Palestine Conflict
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