Hamas releases 24 hostages on first day of pause in Gaza fighting
Hamas on Friday freed 24 hostages — including 13 Israeli women and children, 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino — and Israel released 39 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons on the first day the pause in fighting in Gaza.
The big picture: Hamas agreed to free at least 50 women and children over the four-day pause, while Israel is set to release 150 Palestinians, primarily women and children, held in Israeli prisons.
- The 13 Israeli hostages who were released are from Kibbutz Nir Oz — the Israeli Kibbutz that suffered the most devastating attack on Oct. 7, with one in every four residents killed or abducted.
- Hamas on Friday also freed 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino who worked in the Israeli villages and were kidnapped on Oct. 7, the Qatar Foreign Ministry said. Earlier Friday, the Thai prime minister said that 12 Thai nationals had been released. In recent weeks, Thailand asked Egypt, Qatar and Iran to mediate with Hamas to secure their release.
- The deal between Israel and Hamas came after weeks of sensitive Qatar-mediated negotiations, which also involved the Biden administration at the highest levels.
What they're saying: "The Israeli government hugs all Israeli citizens who returned home today," the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.
- "The Israeli government is committed to return all those who were kidnapped and those who are still missing," it added.
President Biden said later Friday that the first day of implementing the deal is "only a start, but so far, it's gone well."
- "All of these hostages have been through a terrible ordeal and this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for them," he added.
- Asked by reporters if he knew if and when any American hostages may be released, Biden said his "hope and expectation" is it could happen soon. He specifically mentioned two American women and toddler Abigail Edan, who are among the several U.S. citizens still missing after the Oct. 7 attack.
Biden reiterated his call for a two-state solution and said he has pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to "reduce the number of [civilian] casualties while he is attempting to eliminate Hamas, which is a legitimate objective."
- Biden said he couldn't predict how long the war would go on, but he hopes the Arab world and other countries in the region will put "pressure on all sides to slow this down and to bring this to an end as quickly as we can."
- Asked if he thought there should be conditions placed on U.S. aid to Israel, Biden said that was a "worthwhile thought but I don't think if I started off with that we'd ever got where we are today. We have to take this a piece at a time." He did not elaborate.
State of play: Trucks carrying assistance began rolling into Gaza from Egypt not long after the pause began. UN convoys began heading to northern Gaza with the first aid allowed to reach this area in weeks.
- At least four trucks of fuel and four trucks of cooking gas also entered Gaza on Friday.
- The Israeli military used tear gas to push back large groups of displaced Palestinians who tried to return to the northern part of the Strip after the pause in fighting began. The Israeli Defense Forces dropped leaflets telling people to stay in the south because the pause was temporary.
Zoom out: Israeli and U.S. officials have said the deal is structured to incentivize Hamas to release more than 50 hostages. Under the agreement, Israel will extend the pause by a day for every 10 additional hostages released.
- "We know Hamas are holding at least 70-80 women and children and that we can get all of them," an Israeli official told reporters on Wednesday. The Israeli officials said on Wednesday Israel believes other factions in Gaza are holding at least some of the children, but they are ready to give Hamas incentives to locate all of them.
- More than 240 people, including several Americans, were abducted during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. At least 1,200 people were killed in the attack, according to Israeli officials. Prior to Friday's release, four hostages, including two Americans, were freed, one was been rescued and two others were found dead.
Zoom in: The pause offers a short reprieve to more than 2.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza who have been under Israel's heavy bombardment since the war began. At least 14,850 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.
- The pause in fighting and hostage release have been widely welcomed worldwide.
- But humanitarian groups warned a temporary pause is not enough to address the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
- "[F]our days is not enough time to meet what are now catastrophic levels of humanitarian need," the International Rescue Committee said in a statement after the deal was announced.
- "All diplomatic efforts should now be focused on ensuring that civilians in Gaza are not again returned to war, and that all the hostages are released," it added.
The Israeli government has said, however, that it "will continue the war in order to bring all the hostages back, finish destroying Hamas and make sure there can be no threat to Israel from Gaza."
- Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that the fighting will resume "with great force" after the short pause. He added that the fighting is expected to continue for one to two months and Israel will press Hamas to release more hostages.
Go deeper: How the hostage deal will be implemented
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.