Hamas Releases Hostages in Exchange for Israeli Prisoners on First Day of Ceasefire
Hamas Releases Hostages in Exchange for Israeli Prisoners on First Day of Ceasefire

By Jack Phillips

Hamas on Friday released the first group of hostages as part of an agreement between the terrorist organization and Israel amid a ceasefire. In exchange, Israel released the first 39 Palestinians from its jails later in the day.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement that the Israeli military is currently “with the released hostages,” who underwent “an initial medical assessment inside Israeli territory.”

“They will continue to be accompanied by IDF soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families,” the statement said, adding that the IDF and “entire Israeli security establishment will continue operating until all the hostages are returned home.”

Israel released the names of the 13 Israeli hostages, which included four children accompanied by four family members, and five other elderly women.

“The released hostages underwent an initial medical assessment inside Israeli territory. They will continue to be accompanied by IDF soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families,” the military said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a recorded video message: “We have just completed the return of the first batch of our hostages. Children, their mothers and other women. Each and every one of them is a world in itself. But I stress to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel: We are committed to returning all our hostages.”

Thai officials confirmed that 12 captured nationals were among those who were released by Hamas.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said in a social media post that the 12 Thais had been released from captivity in Gaza. There was no further information immediately available about the Thai prisoners, whose release had not previously been announced as one of the terms of an agreed prisoner swap accompanying the first truce of the seven-week-old war.

“I have received confirmation from our national security team and ministry of foreign affairs that 12 Thai hostages have been released. Our RTE staffs are on their way to receive them,” Mr. Thavisin said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We should know more about their names and details, please stay tuned,” Mr. Thavisin added.

The Red Cross announced that 24 hostages were released in all, including Israeli women and children as well as Thai farm workers.

“The deep pain that family members separated from their loved ones feel is indescribable. We are relieved that some will be reunited after long agony,” said Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) regional director for the Near and Middle East.

The hostages were transferred out of Gaza and handed over to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing, accompanied by eight staff members of the ICRC in a four-car convoy, the ICRC said.

Released hostages disembark from an ambulance, as a convoy of vehicles carrying hostages abducted by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel arrives through the border crossing with Gaza, amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, in Egypt, on Nov. 24, 2023. (Al Qahera News/Reuters TV via Reuters)

Qatar, which acted as mediator for the truce deal, said 13 Israelis had been released, some with dual nationalities, plus 10 Thais and a Filipino. Thirty-nine Palestinian women and children were released from Israeli jails in return for the 13 Israelis, Qatar said.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said in a social media post that 12 Thai workers had been freed, two more than the figure given by the Qataris. No reason for the discrepancy was given.

A total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are to be freed over the four-day truce, though Israel has said the ceasefire could be extended if Hamas continues to release hostages at a rate of at least 10 per day. A Palestinian official told Reuters that up to 100 hostages could go free.

Hamas is believed to have taken more than 200 captives since it launched a terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The Palestinian embassy in Cairo announced Thursday that Palestinians who were stuck in the Sinai Peninsula were allowed to cross into Gaza. The embassy said that Palestinians in Egypt could cross into the region on Saturday if they wish.

Other Details

“We are very happy for those families whose loved ones will be coming home, but we are worried about those who are staying behind,” Idan Baruch, whose younger brother Uriel Baruch, was kidnapped last month.

Elaborating, Mr. Baruch told the Jerusalem Post: “We had hoped to see a general agreement which would bring all of the hostages out, but the government has insisted that nobody will be left behind, and we have to trust in that. What can we do? We don’t make the decisions. So at least there will be those who will be released now, and we will be happy for them.”

The hostage exchange, meanwhile, occurred in the midst of a brief truce agreed upon by Israel and Hamas. The head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a video Friday that his organization will abide by the agreement if Israel does the same.

“Hamas will pursue its effort to halt the Israeli assault on Gaza, complete the prisoner exchange, end the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and ‘attack’ on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in addition to enabling the Palestinian people to realize their legitimate national right for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” and other demands, he said.

It comes as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated Friday that a possible future Palestinian state might be demilitarized and instead, would have international security forces.

“We said that we are ready for this state to be demilitarzsed, and there can also be guarantees of forces, whether NATO forces, United Nations forces, or Arab or American forces, until we achieve security for both states, the nascent Palestinian state and the Israeli state,” Mr. Sisi said during a joint news conference in Cairo, reported Reuters.

Palestinians arrive at Rafah, the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, on Nov. 1, 2023. (The Canadian Press/AP, Fatima Shbair)

A political resolution that requires a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, has remained out of reach, Mr. Sisi added. Arab nations have rejected suggestions that an Arab force provide security in the Gaza Strip after the end of Israel’s current military operation there against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters in London this week that Arab states would not want to go into a Gaza Strip that could be turned into a “wasteland” by Israel’s military offensive.

“What are the circumstances under which any of us would want to go and be seen as the enemy?” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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