Hamas on Friday released 24 hostages it held captive in Gaza for weeks, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison in the first stage of a swap under a four-day cease-fire that offered a small glimmer of relief to both sides.
Israel — wrenched by the abduction of nearly 240 people in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war — cheered as 13 Israeli women and children emerged free from Gaza. Most were in their 70s or 80s, and the youngest was a 2-year-old. Also released were 10 people from Thailand and one from the Philippines.
In Gaza, the truce’s start Friday morning brought the first quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling and desperate from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well.
Increased supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel promised under the deal began to roll into Gaza, where U.N. officials had warned that Israel’s seal on the territory threatened to push it to starvation.
But relief has been tempered — among Israelis by the fact that not all hostages will be freed and among Palestinians by the briefness of the pause. The short truce leaves Gaza mired in humanitarian crisis and under the threat that fighting could soon resume.
Israel says the cease-fire could be extended if more hostages are released, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had received a new list of hostages to be released by Hamas on Saturday.
But Israel has vowed to resume its massive offensive once the truce ends. That has clouded hopes that the deal could eventually help wind down the conflict, which has fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.
Under the deal, Hamas is to release at least 50 hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners over the four days. Both sides were starting with women and children. Israel said the four-day truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.