Gaza: Israel has received a list of hostages set to be freed from Gaza on Saturday by Palestinian militant group Hamas, officials said, following the release of 24 hostages during the first day of a planned four-day truce on Friday.
Israeli security officials were reviewing the list, said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government promised to work toward the release of all hostages taken by Hamas in an attack on Israel on October 7.
The released hostages, including Israeli women and children and Thai farm workers, were transferred out of Gaza and handed over to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing, accompanied by eight staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a four-car convoy, the ICRC said. They were then taken to Israel for medical checks and reunions with relatives.
Qatar, which acted as mediator for the truce deal, said 13 Israelis had been released, some with dual nationality, plus 10 Thais and a Filipino - farm workers employed in southern Israel when they were taken hostage. Thirty-nine Palestinian women and children detainees were released from Israeli jails. The Israeli hostages freed included four children accompanied by four family members, and five elderly women.
US President Joe Biden said there was a real chance of extending the truce and that the pause in fighting was a critical opportunity to get humanitarian aid into Gaza. The pause in fighting was the first break in the war that erupted seven weeks ago.
Biden declined to speculate about how long the Israel-Hamas war would last. Asked at a press conference what his expectations were, Biden said Israel's goal of eliminating Hamas was a legitimate but difficult mission. "I don't know how long it will take," Biden said.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that 196 trucks of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical supplies, were delivered through the Rafah crossing on Friday, the biggest aid convoy into Gaza since Hamas' assault on Israel and Israeli bombardment of the territory in retaliation. Some 1,759 trucks have entered the enclave since Oct. 21, it said.
Mixed emotions in Israel
The families of the hostages expressed mixed emotions, fearing for those left behind. "I'm excited for the families who today are going to hug their loved ones," Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer Shem Tov, 21, said in an interview with Israel's Channel 12. He was not among those released on Friday. "I am jealous. And I am sad. Mostly sad that Omer is still not coming home."
According to Israeli tallies, Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people in the October attack and took about 240 hostages. Since then, Israel has rained bombs on the Hamas-ruled enclave, killing some 14,000 Gazans, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.
Hundreds of thousands of Gaza's 2.3 million people have fled their homes, including most people in the northern half of the enclave. After the released hostages underwent initial medical checks and were taken to be reunited with their families, medical authorities said they appeared to be in good physical condition and were undergoing more evaluations.
Roni Haviv, a relative of Ohad Munder, said she was looking forward to giving the nine-year-old his favourite toy. "I'm waiting to see Ohad and can't wait to give him his Rubik's Cube, which I know he really loved and he probably missed it so much and that's the first thing he takes everywhere he goes," she said.
Those released on Friday were exchanged for 24 jailed Palestinian women and 15 teenagers. In at least three cases, before the prisoners were released, Israeli police raided their families' homes in Jerusalem, witnesses said. Police declined to comment.
"There is no real joy, even this little joy we feel as we wait," said Sawsan Bkeer, the mother of 24-year-old Palestinian prisoner Marah Bkeer, jailed for eight years on knife and assault charges in 2015. Israeli police were seen raiding her Jerusalem home before her daughter was released. "We are still afraid to feel happy and at the same time, we do not have it in us to be happy due to what is happening in Gaza," she said.
A source briefed on the negotiations said the release of the Thai workers, who were all men, was unrelated to the truce talks and followed a separate track mediated by Egypt and Qatar. Both sides said the war would resume as soon as the truce was over.