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Friday, June 21, 2024

Qatar Announces the Commencement of Hostage Releases, Starting Friday Afternoon with the First 13

A temporary cease-fire in Gaza is scheduled to commence on Friday morning, with the initial release of hostages set to occur a few hours later, as announced by Qatar’s foreign ministry on Thursday. This marks a significant diplomatic breakthrough since the outbreak of full-scale hostilities prompted by Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7.

Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas have been underway to finalize the details of the agreement, which entails a four-day pause in hostilities. The arrangement involves the exchange of at least 50 women and children held hostage in Gaza for 150 Palestinian women and minors imprisoned in Israeli jails.

Majed al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, conveyed that the pause in fighting will commence at 7 a.m. Gaza time (midnight Eastern) on Friday. The release of a first group of 13 hostages is scheduled for 4 p.m., along with an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners. Al-Ansari referred to this as “the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.”

During each day of the pause, Israel and Hamas will receive daily lists of hostages and prisoners to be released, with Qatar facilitating the exchange between the two parties. Al-Ansari assured that everyone set to be freed is alive and emphasized that hostages from the same family “will be released together.”

Hamas’s military wing confirmed the cease-fire’s commencement at 7 a.m. through a statement on Telegram. While the Israeli prime minister’s office did not confirm the timing, it acknowledged receiving an initial list of names of hostages to be released and had contacted their families.

The cease-fire agreement, announced early Wednesday between Israel’s government and Hamas, initially raised hopes for a respite in the fighting and the reunification of families. However, talks encountered obstacles in the following day and a half, underscoring the fragility of the agreement and the deep mutual mistrust.

In addition to the release of hostages, the agreement includes an increase in humanitarian aid for Gaza. On Thursday, Hamas announced that 200 trucks carrying relief supplies and four fuel trucks would enter the territory daily during the cease-fire. Israel, which has largely restricted fuel from entering Gaza since the war began, citing concerns about diversion for military purposes, has not immediately commented on this development.

As the cease-fire approaches, families across Israel with loved ones among the roughly 240 people held hostage began counting down the hours in the hope of their release over the four-day pause. In Gaza, Palestinians greeted the prospect of even a temporary cease-fire with a mix of relief and caution after enduring seven weeks of Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion.

Despite the looming cease-fire, the Israeli military continued fighting in Gaza on Thursday, as confirmed by Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman. Air-raid sirens warning of incoming rocket fire resounded in some southern Israeli communities. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman for the Israeli military, stated on Thursday night that “the takeover of the north of the Gaza Strip is only the first stage in a long campaign.”

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