The New York Times is reporting that some two dozen hostages held in Gaza, including Thai nationals and Israelis, were released from captivity on Friday, according to the Egyptian and Qatari governments.
These are the first people to be freed under a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that took effect hours earlier.
The hostages were transferred to Egypt and some were expected to be moved to Israel for medical care as part of a prisoner exchange in which 39 Palestinian prisoners and detainees were released from Israeli custody on Friday. There were conflicting reports about whether 24 or 25 had been released, and the exact breakdown by nationality; the Israelis were primarily women and children.
The start of the four-day truce brought a measure of hope for families missing loved ones, a brief reprieve for Gazans battered by seven weeks of war and a faint sense of optimism for a change in the trajectory of the conflict. Israel and Hamas have said they would abide by the deal, but past truces between the sides have often fallen apart, and both have signaled that they would continue fighting when the pause expires.
Still, the cease-fire has already enabled the delivery of more aid supplies to Gaza, where roughly two-thirds of its 2.2 million people have been displaced by the war. By evening, 150 trucks carrying humanitarian aid had entered Gaza from Egypt, said a spokesman for the Gaza side of the border crossing, including four carrying cooking gas and three carrying fuel. That is one of the biggest aid deliveries to Gaza since the start of the war — but still significantly short of the 500 trucks that typically entered the territory every day before the fighting.
Here’s what to know:
The cease-fire deal, brokered by Qatar in weeks of talks, calls for Hamas to return 50 of the women and children taken hostage during its Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, and for Israel to release 150 imprisoned Palestinian women and teenagers. The exchange would occur in phases across the four days of the cease-fire. Read more about the deal.
Qatar brokered a separate deal with Hamas to free the Thai hostages, who were agricultural workers living in southern Israel. They were among scores of foreign nationals who were abducted alongside Israelis on Oct. 7.
In Israel, family members of hostages were hopeful they would soon see their loved ones. Among the roughly 240 people abducted to Gaza is a girl who turned 4 on Friday, whose parents were slain in the Hamas attacks.
Qatar said that 39 Palestinians jailed in Israel, including 24 women and 15 teenage males, were freed on Friday. Among those expected to be released were two women whose families in the West Bank were eagerly awaiting their return.
Reporting was contributed by Vivian Yee and Iyad Abuheweila in Cairo; Hiba Yazbek in Jerusalem; Rawan Sheikh Ahmad in Haifa, Israel; and Johnatan Reiss in Tel Aviv.
Majed al-Ansari, the spokesman for the Qatari foreign ministry, said in a post on the X platform that 39 Palestinian women and children had been released from Israeli prisons “in implementation of the commitments of the first day of the agreement.”
As part of the cease-fire deal struck between Israel and Hamas to exchange Israeli hostages for imprisoned Palestinians, trucks were expected to deliver desperately needed fuel to Gaza each day over the four-day pause in fighting.
Dozens of trucks carrying humanitarian aid had entered Gaza from Egypt, a spokesman for the Gazan border crossing agency, Wael Abu Omar, said by phone. Israel said that eight trucks contained fuel and cooking gas.
Fuel shortages have caused hospitals to close, stalled the distribution of desperately needed humanitarian aid, hindered the ability to prepare food and pump water, and forced two of Gaza’s cellular networks to halt their services, contributing to communications blackouts in the enclave.
Israel agreed on Nov. 17 to the entry of two fuel tankers into Gaza on a daily basis, intended to allow the United Nations to operate desalination and sewage plants. But it has otherwise largely prevented fuel from entering the enclave since Oct. 7, citing security concerns that Hamas will divert it for its own purposes. Israel has said that Hamas stockpiles fuel and prevents its use for civilians, claims that Arab and Western officials have backed.
Before the war, 45 trucks of fuel entered Gaza daily to power civilian infrastructure, including water desalination plants and bakeries, in addition to 500 trucks of food and other supplies, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees, wrote in The Guardian last month.
In the initial aftermath of the Hamas attacks last month, the Israel military vowed to prevent the delivery of electricity, food, water and fuel, tightening a 16-year blockade it had imposed, along with Egypt, that restricted the flow of imports to the territory and prevented Gazans from leaving.
After days of negotiations, the first shipment of humanitarian aid that crossed the Rafah border in Egypt to reach Gaza on Oct. 21 did not include fuel. Lacking fuel, the enclave’s only power plant had shut down. Hospitals, clinics and shelters ran on backup generators, until those ran dry.
By November, hospitals were crippled by severe fuel shortages; most had closed, and those that remained open were overcrowded and capable of only limited care. At least 40 patients, including at least four premature babies, have died since Nov. 11 because of power cuts, the United Nations said last week, citing hospital officials.
Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, has been under siege by Israeli forces for more than a week, and it has struggled to treat its most vulnerable patients. The U.N. had also expressed concern that even if fuel were to be delivered outside the hospital, snipers in the area would make it dangerous for staff members to retrieve it.
Qatar began efforts in a separate mediation channel with Hamas to try to get the release of the Thai hostages after the Thai foreign minister visited Doha on Oct. 31, according to two officials briefed on the talks. The Egyptians, who received the hostages, also helped, they said. The United States did not play a role.
These talks were kept separate from the ones on the Israeli and dual-nationality women and children hostages because the Thai hostages were all men, one of the officials said on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the issue. Hamas has generally been resistant to releasing any of the male hostages.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement that it “began carrying out a multi-day operation to facilitate the release and transfer of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian detainees to the West Bank.”
The humanitarian organization said it would be bringing in additional medical supplies into Gaza as well. “Our deep desire is for all hostages to be released, and that civilians be shielded from the pain and suffering that armed conflict brings,” Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, said.
New York Times