Hamas says 24 hostages handed over to Egypt; 39 Palestinians released from Israeli jails

An International Red Cross vehicle reportedly carrying Israeli hostages released by Hamas crosses the Rafah border point in the Gaza Strip towards Egypt from where they would be flown to Israel to be reunited with their families, on November 24, 2023. Photo: AFP/ Mohammed Abed

Hamas said a group of hostages seized in the deadliest attack in Israel's history were handed over on Friday as a temporary truce took hold in Gaza following weeks of fighting.

"Half an hour ago, the prisoners were handed to the Red Cross who will take them to the Egyptians" at the Rafah crossing, a source close to Hamas told AFP.

A source in the military wing of Hamas confirmed the handover, adding: "This is the first group under the agreement."

24 hostages released
A total of 24 hostages -- 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and one Filipino -- were handed over to the Red Cross, said Qatar, which mediated the deal.

"Those released include 13 Israeli citizens, some of whom are dual citizens, in addition to 10 Thai citizens and a Filipino citizen," foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari wrote on X, formerly Twitter. He said 39 women and children detained in Israeli jails had also been freed under a deal to exchange hostages seized by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners.

Qatar has led weeks of intense negotiations, coordinating with the US and Egypt, to reach an agreement for the freeing of 50 civilian hostages from Gaza in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners, a four-day truce and access for humanitarian aid.

A source with knowledge of the talks confirmed to AFP the 11 Thais and one Filipino freed were in addition to the 50 Israeli hostages earmarked for release.

Israel is set to release three times as many Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails -- women and teenage boys.

A dozen Thai hostages kidnapped during Hamas's October 7 raids into Israel were also released on Friday, Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced.

Pictures released by the Israeli army showed bright pink and blue headphones sitting on the seats of a helicopter ready for the released hostages to use, along with toys and teddy bears waiting at a reception centre where they were being taken to.

Israeli security forces carry privacy screens at the helipad outside Tel Aviv's Schneider medical centre on November 24, 2023, amid preparations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners later in the day. Photo: AFP/ Jack Guez

During a four-day truce, at least 50 hostages are expected to be freed, leaving an estimated 190 in the hands of Palestinian militants.
In exchange, 150 Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released.

Hamas broke through Gaza's militarised border with Israel on October 7 to kill, according to Israeli officials, about 1,200 people and seize around 240 Israeli and foreign hostages.

'Going home'
The pause in fighting triggered a mass movement of thousands of Gazans who had sought refuge in schools and hospitals from relentless Israeli bombardment begun after the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants.

"I'm going home," Omar Jibrin, 16, told AFP after he emerged from a hospital in the south of the Gaza Strip where he and eight family members had sought refuge.

In Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza where many Palestinians fled, a cacophony of car horns and ambulance sirens has replaced the sound of war.

For Khaled al-Halabi, the truce is "a chance to breathe" after nearly seven weeks of war.

Halabi had taken refuge in Rafah but is from Gaza City in the north, much of which has been reduced to rubble.

Israel's retaliatory air, artillery and naval strikes alongside a ground offensive have killed about 15,000 people, the Hamas government in Gaza said.

Gazans have struggled to survive with shortages of water and other essentials. Trucks carrying more aid, including fuel, gas, and food, began moving into Gaza from the Rafah crossing with Egypt shortly after the truce began at 7:00 am.

Israeli security forces stand next to buses waiting at the helipad of Tel Aviv's Schneider medical centre on November 24, 2023, amid preparations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners later in the day. After 48 days of gunfire and bombardment that claimed thousands of lives, a four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war began on November 24 with 50 hostages set to be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. Photo: AFP/ Fadel Senna

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA, expressed hope in Geneva that the pause "leads to a longer-term humanitarian ceasefire for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond."

He repeated the need for access across Gaza, especially in the north "where the damage and the humanitarian needs are the greatest".

According to the UN, 1.7 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people are estimated to have been displaced by the fighting. Now, thousands of them are trying to get home.

In Khan Yunis, they loaded belongings onto carts, strapped them to car roofs, or slung bags over their shoulders, crowding streets to return to their homes from temporary shelters.

Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people that the war is not over and it is "very dangerous" to return north, the focus of Israel's military campaign.

The truce was also a chance for some Palestinians to return to Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

In the morning, a few apparent gunshots could be heard and dark plumes of smoke rose periodically over northern Gaza, an AFPTV livecam showed, but the truce appeared to be holding in the afternoon.

Further north, on the Lebanon-Israel border, calm also returned after regular deadly exchanges of fire, primarily between the Israeli army and Hezbollah. The Lebanese movement, like Hamas, is backed by Iran.

Carefully prepared
Ziv Agmon, legal adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, told reporters that the hostages would be received individually or in groups by the International Committee of the Red Cross, taken across the border and handed to the Israeli army.

From El-Arish, in the Sinai, they would be flown to Israel, an Egyptian security source said.

The Israeli soldiers had been carefully prepared to receive potentially deeply traumatised women and children.

After medical examinations, the former captives will be able to telephone family members before reunions later at Israeli medical facilities, Agmon added. AFP has confirmed the identities of 210 of the roughly 240 hostages.

At least 35 of those seized were children, with 18 of them aged 10 or under at the time.

Hamas earlier released four women and Israeli forces rescued another. Two other captives, including a woman soldier, were found dead by Israeli troops in Gaza.

Netanyahu's office said it had received "a first list of names" of those due to be released and been in contact with the families.

Maayan Zin, whose eight- and 15-year-old daughters Ela and Dafna are among the hostages, posted on social media platform X that she had been informed their names were not included. "This is incredibly difficult for me; I long for their return," she wrote.

Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails will also be freed on Friday, Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al Ansari said.

The Palestinian Authority's prisoner commission published a list of named Palestinian inmates -- 24 women and 15 children -- who could be released in exchange for the initial hostages.

Palestinian prisoners will be freed from three jails in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, then taken to the Ofer military camp on buses, an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

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