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Hamas releases 24 hostages as Israel truce takes hold

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Hostages released by Hamas cross the Rafah border into Egypt

Hamas has released 24 hostages who had been held in the Gaza Strip and Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners, as a temporary ceasefire took hold after more than six weeks of war.

In the first such exchange since Hamas seized more than 200 hostages in its deadly October 7 attack, the militant group set free 13 Israeli women and children on Friday, among them a two-year-old boy and five-year-old girl. It also released 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino.

Qatar, which mediated the deal, added that Israel had freed 39 Palestinian prisoners, all women and children.

“We have now completed the return of the first of our abductees,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We are committed to the return of all our abductees. This is one of the goals of the war, and we are committed to achieving all the goals of the war.”

Fighting in Gaza and Israel’s bombardment of the territory ceased on Friday morning, hours before Red Cross trucks ferried the hostages into Egypt as night fell.

Outside the Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank, hundreds gathered to greet released Palestinian prisoners, singing patriotic songs and setting off fireworks.

The temporary truce was the first halt to hostilities since October 7 and set the stage for what is due to become the staggered release of 50 women and children held by Hamas and 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

The ceasefire, which is due to last four days if the two sides comply with the deal, also paved the way for the biggest humanitarian convoy into Gaza since the war started.

The UN said 200 trucks carrying aid were dispatched to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, but only 137 made it into the besieged strip. In addition, 129,000 litres of fuel was delivered to the enclave.

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Six of the freed Israeli hostages were women over the age of 70, according to a list provided by the prime minister’s office. Yaffa Adar, seen on video being taken to Gaza by militants in a golf cart on October 7, is the eldest in the group at 85.

Family groupings were also among the freed captives, including mother and daughter Danielle and Emilia Aloni, as well as three members of the Monder family and three members of the Asher family. A total of four children aged nine and under were released. The youngest released on Friday, Aviv Asher, is two years old.

Israel’s military on Friday evening said the hostages had undergone an initial medical assessment after transiting through Egypt to Israel.

“They will continue to be accompanied by . . . soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families,” the Israel Defense Forces said.

Hagai Levine, head of the medical team for the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, said some of the released people “have severe chronic diseases”, although clarified it was not clear why Hamas had selected these individuals to be released.

“Now we need to help them to gain control over their lives, to become humans again,” Levine said. But once they have received medical attention, “then we will need to see where will they go”, he said, adding that in some cases “their community, their homes were burnt and they don’t have home to return to”, while others had lost family members to the massacre.

Israeli police in East Jerusalem intervened to stop Palestinians from celebrating the release of their loved ones, eyewitnesses said. Tear gas and stun grenades were used at one home to disperse well-wishers who had set up tents with sweets and fireworks.

Under the truce both sides must abide by an agreed sequence of actions, with Israel allowing aid deliveries, Hamas releasing hostages and Israel in turn freeing prisoners, a person familiar with the situation said. This sequence must be repeated each day for the ceasefire to hold.

Netanyahu said ahead of the ceasefire that Israel would continue the war to achieve “complete victory” after the pause was over.

In its October 7 attack, Hamas seized dozens of Thai workers, alongside Israelis, dual nationals and others, with a total of about 240 people taken captive, according to Israeli officials.

Four other hostages had been unilaterally released by Hamas ahead of Friday’s releases, while one was rescued by Israeli forces.

A further hostage, 19-year-old soldier Noa Marciano, was confirmed to have died while she was held captive, while the body of another, Yehudit Weiss, was found in Gaza.

About 1,200 people were killed in Israel during Hamas’s assault on October 7, Israeli officials have said. Some 13,300 people have died in Israel’s bombardment and ground incursion into Gaza since then, according to officials in the Hamas-controlled strip, while 1.7mn people have been displaced.

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