Hamas frees 24 hostages from Gaza on first day of truce

Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over...
Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel. Photo: Hamas handout via Reuters
Hamas fighters have released 24 hostages during the first day of the war's first truce, including Israeli women and children and Thai farm workers, after guns fell silent across the Gaza Strip for the first time in seven weeks.

The hostages were transferred out of Gaza and handed over to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing, accompanied by eight staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a four-car convoy, the ICRC said.

Qatar, which acted as mediator for the truce deal, said 13 Israelis had been released, some with dual nationalities, plus 10 Thais and a Filipino. Thirty-nine Palestinian women and children detainees were released from Israeli jails.

"We have just completed the return of the first batch of our hostages. Children, their mothers and other women. Each and every one of them is a world in itself," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "But I stress to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel: We are committed to returning all our hostages."

The names of the Israeli hostages were released after they were freed. They included four children accompanied by four family members, and five other elderly women.

Corinne Moshe, daughter-in-law of 72-year-old Adina Moshe, said her husband and his siblings were waiting at a hospital to be reunited with their mother. "I miss her very, very much, I want her to be back already. I want to have dinner with her and the entire family again," she said. "Grandmother is a strong woman. She raised almost all the children of Kibbutz Nir Oz."

The Israeli military said the released hostages underwent an initial medical assessment inside Israeli territory before being taken to Israeli hospitals to be reunited with their families.

Under the terms of the four-day Israel-Hamas truce, 50 women and children hostages are to be released over four days, in return for 150 Palestinian women and children among thousands of detainees in Israeli jails. Israel says the truce could be extended if more hostages are released at a rate of 10 per day.

Those released on Friday were exchanged for 24 jailed Palestinian women and 15 teenagers. In at least three cases, before the prisoners were released, Israeli police raided their families' homes in Jerusalem, witnesses said. Police declined to comment.

Released Palestinian prisoners leave the Israeli military prison near Ramallah. Photo: Reuters
Released Palestinian prisoners leave the Israeli military prison near Ramallah. Photo: Reuters
A source briefed on the negotiations said the release of the Thai workers, who were all men, was unrelated to the truce talks and followed a separate track mediated by Egypt and Qatar.

Thai and Filipino farmworkers employed in southern Israel were among around 240 hostages dragged back to Gaza by gunmen when Hamas fighters launched a killing spree on Oct. 7.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said in a social media post that 12 Thai workers had been freed, two more than the figure given by the Qataris. No reason for the discrepancy was given.


Earlier on Friday, combat between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters halted for the first time in seven weeks.

No big bombings, artillery strikes or rocket attacks were reported, although Hamas and Israel both accused each other of sporadic shootings and other violations. Both said the war would resume on full throttle as soon as the truce was over.

In Khan Younis town in southern Gaza, streets filled with people venturing out of home and shelters into a landscape of buildings flattened into heaps of rubble. Displaced families with small children carried belongings in plastic bags, hoping to return at least temporarily to homes they had abandoned earlier in the war.

"I am now very happy, I feel at ease. I am going back to my home, our hearts are rested," said Ahmad Wael, smiling as he walked carrying a mattress balanced on his head. "I am very tired of sitting without any food or water. There (at home) we can live, we drink tea, make bread."

In northern Gaza's combat zone, viewed from across the fence in southern Israel, there was no sign of the warplanes that have thundered through the sky for weeks, explosions on the ground or the contrails of Hamas rocketfire. Just one plume of smoke was visible in the early afternoon.

Columns of Israeli tanks rolled away from the Gaza Strip's northern end in the morning, while aid trucks entered from Egypt at the southern end.

Hamas confirmed that all hostilities from its forces would cease. But Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for Hamas' armed wing, said in a video message that this was a "temporary truce" and called for an "escalation of the confrontation...on all resistance fronts", including the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant spoke similarly: "This will be a short pause, at the conclusion of which the war (and) fighting will continue with great might and will generate pressure for the return of more hostages."

Israel launched its assault on Gaza after Hamas fighters burst across the border fence into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, Israel has rained bombs on the Hamas-ruled enclave, killing some 14,000 Gazans, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Hundreds of thousands of Gaza's 2.3 million people have fled their homes to escape the violence, including most people in the northern half of Gaza including Gaza City, which Israel ordered evacuated and has pulverised in its ground assault.

Gaza residents said the Israelis had dropped leaflets warning people not to travel back to the north, and have fired over the heads of some people who were trying to get back into Gaza City.

James Elder, spokesperson for the U.N. children’s agency Unicef, told Reuters from inside southern Gaza that the agency was pleading for the truce to be made permanent.

"We cannot in all decent conscience go from a four or five day pause into killing of children again."