At the time of going to press, final details were being negotiated for the release of 50 Israeli hostages, women and children, from captivity in Gaza to Israel during a temporary four-day ‘pause in fighting.’ It would not take place before Friday, as originally hoped. Hamas will receive three Palestinians, women and teenagers held in Israeli jails, for every Israeli hostage. No mothers will be released without their children. The first list of Israelis to be released was sent to Israeli authorities last night.
The hostages are due to be handed to the Red Cross, then IDF and medical examinations before being reunited with their families. The Palestinians on the Hamas list will be returned later in the day. Under the ‘pause’ deal, Israel will refrain from aerial operations over Gaza for six hours each day. After 50 hostages are returned to Israel, Hamas will receive three Palestinian prisoners for each hostage and a ‘pause’ day for 10 hostages. ‘Pause’ days will see fuel, gas, and humanitarian aid trucks enter Gaza.
According to data Israel has received, Hamas and other terror groups are holding around 195 Israelis, including 40 children and 58 women. Egypt, Qatar, and the United States brokered the ‘humanitarian truce’. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Red Cross officials will visit remaining hostages. The Israeli government announced the deal in the early hours of Wednesday after the Cabinet backed proposals for the deal following eight hours of intense discussions at the Kiryah in Tel Aviv.
The Otzma Yehudit party voted against the deal. Israelis had 24 hours to petition the Supreme Court, although the court was expected to reject appeals. The deal is backed by the IDF, Shin Bet, and Mossad. Israel released a statement after the deal passed a vote. It read: ‘The Government of Israel is obligated to return home all of the hostages… the Government has approved the outline of the first stage of achieving this goal, according to which at least 50 hostages, women and children, will be released over four days, during which a pause in the fighting will be held. The release of every additional ten hostages will result in one additional day in the pause. The Government of Israel, the IDF, and the security services will continue the war in order to return home all of the hostages, complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that there will be no new threat to the State of Israel from Gaza.’
President Isaac Herzog stated: “The reservations are understandable, painful, and difficult, but given the circumstances I back and support the decision of the Prime Minister and the Government to move forward with the deal to release hostages. This is a moral and ethical duty that correctly expresses the Jewish and Israeli value of securing the freedom of those held captive, with the hope that it will be the first step in returning all the hostages home. The State of Israel, the IDF, and all the security forces will continue to act in every way possible to achieve this goal, alongside the restoration of the absolute security of the citizens of Israel.”
Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s senior advisor, told the BBC News: “Hamas has agreed to this not because they have suddenly become humanitarians. People who kidnap babies are not humanitarians, but they have been under amazing pressure. The IDF has been hitting them hard. We have been destroying their military machine, we’ve been eliminating their top leadership… That has forced them to accept this cessation of fighting. They needed a break. We were hitting them hard, they were desperate for this time out.”
Regarding the other hostages, he noted: “It’s a bittersweet day. On the one hand, 50 people are supposed to come out, but there are some 180 unaccounted for. It’s difficult. The Israeli government will do everything that can be done to have all the hostages released. Our problem here is Hamas. Hamas is a brutal, fanatical organization that gives no qualms about murdering the innocent.”
US President Joe Biden thanked Qatar and Egypt for their efforts in securing the release of Israelis taken by Hamas during its assault against Israel on October 7th. He said in a statement: “I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented. It is important that all aspects of this deal be fully implemented.”
He added: “As President, I have 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.”
Pope Francis met Israeli families of hostages yesterday and said the conflict in Gaza had become terrorism. “Terror is worse than war,” he said. The European Jewish Congress stated: “While we share the immense relief of those released and their families, our thoughts go out to those Israeli and foreign hostages remaining in the tunnels of Gaza. We recognize that the value of human life is always paramount and that restoring these hostages to the safety of their families requires difficult decisions including the release of terrorists. We hope and pray this is but the first stage leading to the release of all hostages and removal of the Hamas terror threat to Israel.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen commented: “We will do its utmost to use this pause for a humanitarian surge to Gaza.” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader welcomed the hostage deal in PMQs. Foreign Minister David Cameron said: “This agreement is a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I urge all parties to ensure the agreement is delivered in full.”
Netanyahu told the Kirya meeting on Tuesday night: “We will continue the war until we achieve all of our war aims, to eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and our missing, and ensure that there is no element in Gaza that threatens Israel.” Netanyahu acknowledged an agreement was a “difficult” but “correct” decision. “All of the security agencies fully support it,” he noted. “They have made it completely clear in their professional assessment, that the security of our forces will be ensured during the pause and that the intelligence effort will be maintained in those days. They have made it clear that not only will the war effort not be harmed, it will enable the IDF to prepare for the continuation of the fighting.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant noted: “All members of the Cabinet, the IDF, ISA and Mossad are working on hostages and missing persons day and night. IDF soldiers risk their lives every day and we see the results. The release of the hostages is of immense value. We all think about the children, soldiers, adults and Holocaust survivors, and we understand how important this is. At the same time, without continuing (military) pressure, there will be no chance of bringing (home) additional hostages. The government has included in its decision, the unequivocal demand that immediately after we have exhausted this phase, all operations by the IDF, ISA and all the security forces, will continue in full force in order to defeat Hamas and to create the necessary conditions to bring home additional hostages.”