Israel and Hamas have reached a breakthrough deal for a four-day ceasefire in fighting and the release of at least 50 women and children held hostage in Gaza amid a severe humanitarian crisis in the enclave.
Agreement, Qatar, the main negotiator, has laid out in a statement that hostages held by Hamas will be released in exchange for many Palestinian women and children in Israeli jails. The cease-fire, meanwhile, will allow for “larger numbers of humanitarian convoys and relief aid,” the statement said.
The statement added that the ceasefire will be announced within the next 24 hours.
Qatar’s lead negotiator, Minister Mohammad Al-Khulaifi, said the deal should prompt the international community to “seize this brief opportunity to build more momentum on the diplomatic track”.
The announcement was greeted with relief and high anticipation from the families of those held hostage at gunpoint by Hamas militants, who are now waiting for more news about their loved ones.
According to Israeli military figures, Hamas is holding 239 hostages in Gaza, including foreigners from 26 countries. It was the largest attack on Israel since its founding in 1948, when Hamas militants launched a coordinated and bloody surprise attack on the border on October 7, killing around 1,200 people.
Before the agreement, only a handful of hostages were released.
Israel responded to the attack by declaring war on Hamas and imposing a blockade on Gaza that cut off food, water, medicine and fuel supplies, while conducting a relentless air and ground offensive. More than 12,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas government’s press office.
The newly announced deal followed weeks of negotiations involving the United States and Egypt and was approved by Israel’s cabinet early Wednesday following a six-hour meeting described by an Israeli official. “Tense and emotion.”
Israel held out the possibility that the ceasefire could be extended beyond the original four-day period, saying in a statement that an extra day would be added for every 10 additional hostages available for release.
But it also made clear that Israel plans to resume its air and ground campaign to “complete the elimination of Hamas” once this round of hostage releases ends.
While the exact start time of the moratorium and details of where and how the hostages will be released are unclear, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN Wednesday morning that the military is still working out an exact time. Pause.
“Until the Israeli government tells us to do so, we will continue to fight Hamas, and when such an agreement comes into effect, we will respect it. But we will be very vigilant on the ground,” Conricus said.
The deal prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand answers and action after the hostages’ families stepped up pressure on the Israeli government.
While the details of the release remain unclear, some family members of hostages held by Hamas expressed relief — and hope as they wait to learn whether their loved ones will be included in the negotiated release.
Anat Moshe Shoshani, whose grandmother was kidnapped on the back of a moped from Kibbutz Nir Oz, said hearing the hostage bargain “gave him a lot of hope.”
“I really hope somebody gets out of there alive,” Shoshani said. “We want a chance to see our loved ones again. This is what we want and I believe this is the first step in this chaos.
Liz Hirsch Naftali, the great-grandmother of Abigail Eden, a 3-year-old American citizen held hostage by Hamas, told CNN that the situation was “heartbreaking.”
“We’ve spent the last seven weeks, seven weeks, worrying, wondering, praying, hoping,” he said.
The family of Abigail, a young American hostage held by Hamas, will be home by her fourth birthday on Friday.
“We need to see Abigail come out and then we can believe it,” Naftali added.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the deal in a statement in Washington on Tuesday night, saying it should “bring home additional American hostages”. Biden vowed that he “will not stop until everyone is freed.”
Three Americans may be among the 50 women and children freed as part of the deal, senior US officials said. Ten Americans, including two women, were unaccounted for According to a senior administrative official, a 3-year-old girl. The officer did not name the woman.
While the deal calls for the release of at least 50 hostages, the official says it “encourages the release of all.”
“The hostage deal, as structured, includes a moratorium, a humanitarian moratorium. And there is a possibility that it could be extended with additional releases, but that would depend on Hamas releasing additional hostages,” the official said.
A U.S. official said “there are various locations where the hostages are being brought out,” but declined to provide further details.
IDF spokesman Conricus said the list of hostages to be released in the deal are all Israelis — some with dual nationals. He added that the Palestinian prisoners to be released were “not serious criminals”.
The total number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons is approximately 8,300, according to Katura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a non-governmental organization.
Of those 8,300, more than 3,000 are being held in what Israel calls “administrative detention.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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