Qatar says 4-day Gaza truce, hostage release to start on Friday

Published November 23, 2023
This picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip, shows smoke rising above buildings during Israeli strikes on the northern part of the Palestinian enclave on November 22, 2023. — AFP
This picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip, shows smoke rising above buildings during Israeli strikes on the northern part of the Palestinian enclave on November 22, 2023. — AFP
This picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing after an Israeli strike on north Gaza on November 23. — AFP
This picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing after an Israeli strike on north Gaza on November 23. — AFP
Israeli tanks operate in Gaza City, in the Gaza Strip, November 22. — Reuters
Israeli tanks operate in Gaza City, in the Gaza Strip, November 22. — Reuters

A four-day pause in Gaza will start on Friday morning and an exchange of hostages and prisoners will follow hours later, mediator Qatar said on Thursday.

The agreement facilitated by Qatar with help from Egypt and the United States had been due to take effect on Thursday but was delayed after a last-minute hitch.

“The pause will begin at 7:00am (0500 GMT) on Friday […] and the first batch of civilian hostages will be handed over at approximately 4:00pm (1400 GMT),” Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al Ansari said.

Thirteen people would be freed initially, all women and children from the same families, Ansari told a news conference in Doha.

Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails would also be released on Friday, he said, adding a list of inmate names had been approved, without saying how many.

Ansari said “the skies will be clear” of drones for a period of time to “allow for the hostage release to happen in a safe environment”.

Israel and Hamas had announced a deal on Wednesday allowing at least 50 hostages and scores of Palestinian prisoners to be freed during the pause.

“Obviously every day will include a number of civilians as agreed to total 50 within the four days,” the Qatari spokesperson said.

“During these four days, information will be collected about the rest of the hostages to consider the possibility of more releases and thus extending the pause,” he added.

Commenting on the pause, Ansari said it entailed “a complete ceasefire […] with no attacks from the air or the ground,” adding that he hoped “there will be no violations”.

‘List of names’

The deal is to take effect in stages that can be extended and broadened. It is also intended to provide aid to Gaza’s 2.4 million residents.

“The agreement, it still […] stands and as was agreed upon,” Ansari said.

The armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, on Thursday confirmed that a truce would begin on Friday, accompanied by the “cessation of all military actions from the Qassam Brigades and the Palestinian resistance” during the truce.

During the truce, it said 50 hostages — women and males aged 18 or under — would be freed, with three Palestinian prisoners to be released for each of them.

Hamas official Bassem Naim said “marathon negotiations” were behind the agreement, which “represents an important step towards alleviating the suffering of our people”.

The release of Palestinian woman and children held in Israeli jails would start with those who have been detained the longest, Naim said.

The Israeli prime minister’s office said on Thursday authorities were in contact with the families of all the hostages being held in Gaza after receiving “a first list of names”.

It did not immediately specify who was on the list.

The agreement follows weeks of Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip after Hamas broke through the militarised border with Israel on October 7 in an unprecedented attack.

Israeli officials say about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and around 240 taken hostage. Relentless Israeli bombardments and a ground invasion since then have killed more than 14,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the government in the Gaza Strip.

No let-up in fighting

There was no let-up in the fighting early on Thursday, reports said.

Palestinian media said Israeli aircraft and artillery struck Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis in at least two waves and 15 people were killed. Attacks were also reported in several other parts of Gaza, including the Jabalia and Nuseirat camps.

The Israeli military said its forces carried out aerial strikes on over 300 Hamas targets over the past day.

In Israel, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from Gaza blared in communities near the border with the enclave, the military said. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

Israel also appeared to be pushing on with its offensive in northern Gaza, with witnesses reporting strikes on Kamal Adwan hospital and nearby homes.

Medical workers treated bloodied, dust-covered survivors as other residents fled through debris-strewn streets to safety.

At Gaza’s biggest hospital, the Al-Shifa, Israeli soldiers escorted journalists to a tunnel shaft they alleged was part of a vast underground network Hamas uses for military purposes — a claim Hamas denies.

“We are not ending the war. We will continue until we are victorious,” the chief of the Israeli general staff, Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, told commanders in a video released by the military on Thursday.

‘Need to know if they are alive’

Netanyahu made no mention of a potential delay in implementation of the agreement during a press conference late on Wednesday. Hanegbi’s statement was released about an hour after the press conference.

“We need to know they are alive, if they’re okay. It’s the minimum,” said Gilad Korngold, who said he drew just a measure of comfort from the deal between Israel and Hamas and was among those who were still awaiting word of relatives.

Seven of his family members, including his three-year-old granddaughter, were taken hostage.

“I want everybody back. But I think — and it’s a very tough decision — but I think the children and women must be (first). They are most fragile…they need to get out,” Korngold added.

In Khan Yunis, southern Gaza, displaced Palestinians remained sceptical about the Israel-Hamas deal.

“What truce are they talking about? We don’t need a truce just so aid can come in. We want to go home,” said Maysara Assabagh, who fled northern Gaza for a hospital that now shelters about 35,000 displaced people.

The US also hoped that aid would begin reaching Gaza in large volumes within the next few days, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.

Three Americans, including three-year-old Abigail Mor Idan, were among those earmarked for release.

The 50 hostages would be released over four days at a rate of at least 10 daily, Netanyahu’s office said. The truce could be extended day by day so long as an additional 10 hostages were freed each day, it said.

Israel’s justice ministry published a list of 300 names of Palestinian prisoners who could be freed.

The truce agreement, the first in a nearly seven-week-long war, was reached after mediation by Qatar and seen by governments around the world as potentially easing the suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

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