A four-day truce between Israel and Hamas will begin on Friday morning, with civilian hostages and Palestinian prisoners to be released later in the afternoon, Qatar announced Thursday, hours after the deal was originally meant to take effect.
The pause in fighting will start at 7 a.m. local time (midnight ET), with 13 women and children hostages to be freed at 4 p.m., according to a spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, Majed Al-Ansari.
The list of hostages who are expected to be released has been handed to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, Al-Ansari said.
The Mossad will also hand over a list of Palestinian prisoners expected to be released to the Qataris, he added. “Whenever we have both lists confirmed this is when we can begin with the process of getting people out,” the spokesperson said.
The prisoners will be taken from two jails – Damon and Megiddo, both southeast of Haifa – and driven to the Ofer prison, south of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, for final checks by the Red Cross.
And Israel has started notifying the families of the first hostages set to be released on Friday, Israeli coordinator for hostages and missing persons Gal Hirsch said in a statement. “Liaison officers have informed all of those families whose loved ones appear on the list, as well as all of the hostages’ families,” the statement said.
“Nothing is finalized until it’s actually happening. And even amid the process, changes might occur at any moment,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in his daily press briefing on Thursday.
He said that the Israeli army continues to fight in the Gaza Strip “at this hour,” pointing out that once the pause goes into effect, IDF soldiers will be stationed along the “truce lines” established inside the territory.
Under the deal outlined earlier, 150 Palestinian prisoners would be released from Israeli jails. The prisoners concerned are women and children, Hamas said Wednesday, adding that the agreement also involves the entry of hundreds of trucks carrying aid relief, medical supplies and fuel to all parts of the besieged territory.
The Israeli government on Wednesday published a list of 300 Palestinian prisoners for possible release, as Israel is offering a potential second phase of exchanges.
The list includes the ages of the prisoners, and the charges on which they are being held – throwing stones and “harming regional security” are among the most common. Others are listed as detained for supporting illegal terror organizations, illegal weapons charges, incitement, and at least two accusations of attempted murder.
Delay until Friday
“Talks to release our hostages are advancing and are ongoing. The start of the release process will take place according to the original agreement between both sides, and not before Friday,” the statement said.
The comments over ongoing planning echo those from American officials.
A US National Security Council spokesperson stressed in a statement late Wednesday that the hostage deal “remains agreed,” adding that the parties were “working out final logistical details particularly for the first day of implementation.”
“It is our view that nothing should be left to chance as the hostages begin coming home,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said. “Our primary objective is to ensure that they are brought home safely. That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning.”
One Israeli official familiar with the matter downplayed its seriousness, putting it down to “fairly minor implementation details.”
Netanyahu warned on Thursday, however, that getting the first group of hostages out of Gaza is “not without its challenges.”
“We hope to get this first tranche out, and then we’re committed to getting everyone out,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron.
Officials and analysts in Israel have long cautioned that any deal would be precarious up and until the hostages were safely across the border.
“The fighting will continue forcefully”
The IDF had continued ground and air operations in Gaza on Wednesday ahead of the expected start of the truce, carrying out strikes in the north-eastern and central parts of the Gaza Strip. Areas further south, including Khan Younis and Rafah, were also hit, according to Palestinian accounts.
Israeli forces continued to strike targets on Thursday, the IDF said, including in northwest Jabalya.
The IDF also said Thursday that Israeli soldiers had located a tunnel shaft inside a mosque and located and struck another tunnel shaft in an agricultural area in Beit Hanoun. It claimed IDF soldiers had located “numerous weapons” and identified a tunnel shaft inside a civilian residence in the area.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said Israel’s military operation against Hamas will continue “forcefully” after the brief truce and that the fighting is expected to go on for at least two more months.
“This will be a brief pause, when it ends the fighting will continue forcefully, and will create pressure that will allow the return of more hostages… Fighting of at least two more months is expected,” Gallant said while visiting Israeli troops on Thursday.
The deal had marked a major diplomatic breakthrough nearly seven weeks after the start of a conflict that has spiraled into a grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The announcement was greeted with relief and heightened anticipation from the families of those taken hostage.
The truce, meanwhile, would also allow the entry of “a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid,” as laid out by key negotiator Qatar in a statement.
There is an option for the pause to last as long as 10 days, but Israeli officials believe it is unlikely to last that long.
Netanyahu said when the deal was approved that for every additional 10 hostages released, there will be an additional one day pause in the fighting.
Hamas is holding 236 hostages captive in Gaza, including foreign nationals from 26 countries, according to figures from the Israeli military. The mass abductions at gunpoint took place during October 7, when Hamas militants struck across the border in a coordinated and bloody surprise attack killing around 1,200 people – the largest such attack on Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.
Prior to the deal, only a handful of hostages had been released.
Israel responded to the attack by declaring war against Hamas and imposing a siege on Gaza that cut off supplies of food, water, medicines and fuel, while launching a relentless air and ground assault. Some 12,700 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to data from the Palestinian health ministry in the West Bank, which draws on information from Hamas-run health authorities.
This is a developing story and will be updated.