Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire to begin Thursday morning and last for at least four days in their seven-week war in Gaza.
Hamas has agreed to release 50 women and children under the age of 19 of the about 240 people taken hostage when its gunmen attacked southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing an estimated 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
In exchange for the hostages’ release, Israel promised to let 150 Palestinians jailed in Israel go free.
Hamas had released only four hostages previously: U.S. citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20 and Israelis Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct. 23.
Truce Could Be Extended if More Hostages Released
An Israeli government statement said the truce would be extended an extra day for every additional ten hostages Hamas releases. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel would resume the war after the truce and keep fighting “until we achieve all our goals,” including the destruction of Hamas.
More than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the current Israel-Hamas conflict started, the Hamas-run government media office said Tuesday.
Ismail al-Thawabta, director general of the media office, said at a press conference that 5,840 children and 3,920 women were among those killed.
While the names of the hostages to be released have not been made public, officials say those freed first will be Israeli, some of whom have dual nationality.
Among the dual nationals is Abigail Edan, a 3-year-old Israeli-American whose parents were killed by Hamas. Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail's great-aunt, told CNN about the “excruciating” wait to hear if her great-niece is coming home.
“For our family, we have spent the last seven weeks worrying, wondering, praying, hoping,” she said. The family is holding on to hope that Abigail will be one of the first to be released.
Qatar's Major Role in Deal
The government of Qatar, which often acts as a mediator for Hamas, helped broker the deal.
“I thank Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt for their critical leadership and partnership in reaching this deal,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that as president, he has “no higher priority than ensuring the safety of Americans held hostage around the world. … Today’s deal should bring home additional American hostages, and I will not stop until they are all released.
Biden’s secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, said the positive development was “the result of tireless diplomacy and relentless effort.”
“While this deal marks significant progress, we will not rest as long as Hamas continues to hold hostages in Gaza,” Blinken said.
Qatar's chief negotiator in the ceasefire talks, Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, said there would be “no attack whatsoever under the deal. No military movements, no expansion, nothing.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the hostage deal but called for a complete ceasefire, according to the state-run Palestinian news agency Wafa.
The International Committee of the Red Cross will work in Gaza to facilitate the release of the hostages, Qatar said.
“As a neutral intermediary, it is important to clarify that we are not part of the negotiations and do not make decisions on the substance of it. Our role is to facilitate the implementation, once the parties agree,” the Red Cross said in a statement.