Hamas frees 24 hostages in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners as part of cease-fire swap

The releases on both sides were part of a deal for a four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war that began Friday.

Associated Press

Nov 24, 2023, 6:08 PM

Updated 231 days ago

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Hamas on Friday released 24 hostages it held captive in Gaza for weeks, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison in the first stage of a swap under a four-day cease-fire that offered a small glimmer of relief to both sides.
Israel - wrenched by the abduction of nearly 240 people in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war - cheered as 13 Israeli women and children emerged free from Gaza. Most were in their 70s or 80s, and the youngest was a 2-year-old. Also released were 10 people from Thailand and one from the Philippines.
In Gaza, the truce’s start Friday morning brought the first quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling and desperate from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well.
Increased supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel promised under the deal began to roll into Gaza, where U.N. officials had warned that Israel’s seal on the territory threatened to push it to starvation.
But relief has been tempered - among Israelis by the fact that not all hostages will be freed and among Palestinians by the briefness of the pause. The short truce leaves Gaza mired in humanitarian crisis and under the threat that fighting could soon resume.
Israel says the cease-fire could be extended if more hostages are released, but it has vowed to resume its massive offensive once the truce ends. That has clouded hopes that the deal could eventually help wind down the conflict, which has fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.
Under the deal, Hamas is to release at least 50 hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners over the four days. Both sides were starting with women and children. Israel said the four-day truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.
After nightfall Friday, a line of ambulances emerged from Gaza through the Rafah Crossing into Egypt carrying the freed hostages, according to live footage on Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV.
The freed Israelis included nine women and four children 9 and under. The military said they were taken to hospitals in Israel to be reunited with their families.
At a plaza dubbed “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv, a crowd of Israelis celebrated at the news.
Yael Adar spotted her mother, 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, in a TV newscast of the release and was cheered to see her walking. “That was a huge concern, what would happen to her health during these almost two months,” she told Israel’s Channel 12.
But Yael’s 38-year-old son, Tamir Adar, remained in captivity. Both were kidnapped on Oct. 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz. “Everyone needs to come back. It’s happiness locked up in grief.”
The hostages included multiple generations. Nine-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri was freed along with his mother, Keren Munder, and grandmother Ruti Munder. The fourth-grader was abducted during a holiday visit to his grandparents at the kibbutz where about 80 people - nearly a quarter of all residents of the small community - are believed to have been taken hostage.
The plight of the hostages has raised anger among some families that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not doing enough to bring them home.
Hours later, 24 Palestinian women and 15 teenagers held in Israeli prisons in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem were freed. In the West Bank town of Beituna, hundreds of Palestinians poured out of their homes to celebrate, honking horns and setting off fireworks that lite up the nights sky.
The teenagers had been jailed for minor offenses like throwing stones. The women included several convicted of trying to stab Israeli soldiers, and others who had been arrested at checkpoints in the West Bank.
“As a Palestinian, my heart is broken for my brothers in Gaza, so I can’t really celebrate,” said Abdulqader Khatib, a U.N. worker whose 17-year-old son, Iyas, was freed. “But I am a father. And deep inside, I am very happy.”
Iyas had been taken last year into “administrative detention,” without charges or trial and based on secret evidence. Israel often holds detainees for months without charges. Most of those who are tried are put before military courts that almost never acquit defendants and often don’t follow due process, human rights groups say.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.
Friday’s halt in fighting brought Gaza’s uprooted population a moment to catch their breath after weeks of fleeing for shelter, searching for food and fearing for family.
After the truce began Friday morning, four trucks of fuel and four trucks of cooking gas entered from Egypt, as well as 200 trucks of relief supplies, Israel said.
Israel has barred all imports into Gaza throughout the war, except for a trickle of supplies from Egypt.
Its ban on fuel, which it said could be diverted to Hamas, caused a territory-wide blackout. Hospitals, water systems, bakeries and shelters have struggled to keep generators running.
During the truce, Israel agreed to allow the delivery of 130,000 liters (34,340 gallons) of fuel per day - still only a small portion of Gaza’s estimated daily needs of more than 1 million liters.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crowded into the southern portion of the territory, with more than 1 million living in U.N. schools-turned-shelters. The calm brought a chance for displaced residents of the south to visit homes and retrieve some belongings.
But the hundreds of thousands who evacuated from northern Gaza to the south were warned not to return in leaflets dropped by Israel. Israeli troops hold much of the north, including Gaza City.
Still, hundreds of Palestinians tried walking north Friday. Two were shot and killed by Israeli troops and another 11 were wounded.
Sofian Abu Amer decided to risk checking his home in Gaza City.
“We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” he said. “The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.”
Israel’s northern border with Lebanon was also quiet on Friday, a day after the militant Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting there began Oct. 8.
Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire agreement but was widely expected to halt its attacks.
The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers.
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.
But hours before it came into effect, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops that their respite would be short and that the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months.
Netanyahu has also vowed to continue the war to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, end its 16-year rule in Gaza and return all the hostages.
The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead, though the latest number was not broken down. The figure does not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where communications have broken down.
The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing, feared buried under rubble.
The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls.
Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.
(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission)


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