After almost seven weeks of being held captive, the first group of Israeli hostages have been released by Hamas, after a four-day truce came into effect in Gaza this morning. The 13 hostages are all women and children; they have also all been officially identified. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed this evening that all the released hostages were now back in Israel.
The freed hostages had been taken in ambulances from Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, to the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Here they were handed over to aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the same time, their families were being brought to different hospitals in Israel where they would be reunited with them.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) said that the Israeli ex-hostages were flown home from Egypt under military guard, Reuters reports. The IAF published photos of one of its CH-53 Yasur helicopters having been prepared for the mission, with dolls, colorful throw rugs, and personal hygiene kits already arranged on the bench-type seats in its cabin.
There are some other interesting announcements from the IAF about the makeup of the helicopter crew, which included a commando squad, as well as doctors and liaison officers. The liaison officers were trained in communication and counseling and were apparently the first to make contact with the ex-hostages.
Once the helicopter touched down in Israel, the former hostages received any emergency medical treatment that they needed, before being forwarded to different hospitals there, to be reunited with their families. Specialist psychological care will be provided for any of those individuals who may have been sexually assaulted.
Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant described the release of the first hostages as an “important first step”. In a post on social media, he said Israel would “continue and do everything necessary” to bring the remaining hostages home.
Under the planned four-day truce, Hamas says it will release 50 of the roughly 240 people it is holding, after they were captured during the militants’ assault on Israel on October 7.
In addition to the Israeli former hostages, around 12 Thai nationals have also been released from a total of at least 26 being held. Reuters reports that the Thai nationals — all men — were freed as part of a separate deal negotiated by Hamas with Qatar and Egypt, although the Thai government also met representatives from Hamas in Tehran last month. The released Thai nationals were also expected to be taken to hospitals in Israel.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, said:
“It has been confirmed by the Security Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that there are 12 Thai hostages already released. Embassy officials are on their way to pick them up in another hour. They should know their names and details. Please stay tuned.”
Based on statements from the Israeli government, Thai nationals make up the biggest group of foreign people killed or missing in the Hamas attacks, mainly due to them being employed in large numbers in the country’s agricultural sector.
Meanwhile, in another post on X, Majed Al Ansari, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson, wrote that as well as 13 Israeli citizens, 10 Thais, and one citizen from the Philippines had been released from Gaza. He said that a total of 24 civilians were received by the International Red Cross in Egypt. This suggests that only 10 Thai citizens were actually released, with Prime Minister Thavisin presumably repeating the estimated figure that Reuters reported.
At the same time, Israel has committed to setting 150 Palestinian prisoners free. Thirty-nine of these prisoners were in the process of being released today, comprising 24 women and 15 teenagers. Of those women, some are said to have been convicted of attempted murder for attacks on Israeli forces, while the teenagers include some reportedly imprisoned for offenses such as throwing stones.
In the photo and video below, International Red Cross vehicles are seen arriving at Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank to transport the 39 Palestinians.
Also today, aid trucks began to enter the Gaza Strip from Egypt, carrying supplies from Egyptian organizations. The vehicles entered Gaza around 90 minutes after the truce began at 7:00 am local time.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, has said that he is committed to the four-day truce as long as Israel also adheres to it.
Israeli military officials continue to warn that their campaign against Hamas is far from finished. In a social media message posted in Arabic to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, Avichay Adraee, an Israeli military spokesman, warned that “The war is not over yet.”
Immediately prior to the beginning of the ceasefire, there were reports of an IDF assault on the Indonesian hospital in Gaza. Until recently, this was the last facility of its kind still operating in northern Gaza and had also come under previous attack.
Israeli military officials have previously claimed that an entrance to a Hamas tunnel is located close to the Indonesian hospital and that missiles have been launched into Israel from nearby.
In this morning’s apparent IDF raid on the hospital, it was reported that one woman was killed, and three other people wounded. Citing Dr. Munir al-Bursh, the director general of the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza, Al Jazeera reported that a further three people were arrested at the hospital, which has now been forced to cease operations.
One apparent effect of the ceasefire is the movement of Palestinians northward, back to their homes, after previously evacuating in the face of the IDF assault on Gaza. Reuters reports that the IDF continues to drop leaflets warning these Palestinians not to return to what it states is still a dangerous war zone.
Reuters today described the situation in the southern town of Khan Younis, where thousands of displaced families from northern Gaza have taken refuge. Here, hundreds of people are said to be on the move, among them Ahmad Wael, who told the news agency:
“I am now very happy, I feel at ease. I am going back to my home, our hearts are rested, especially since there is a four-day official ceasefire, better than returning to live in tents. I am very tired from sitting there, without any food or water. There [at home] we can live, we drink tea, make bread using fire, and the oven.”
According to the Associated Press, some of those Palestinians headed north have been killed or injured by the IDF, although whether this occurred before or after the ceasefire came into effect is not immediately clear.
An AP journalist said they saw the bodies of two Palestinians shot and killed by the IDF, as well as another 11 individuals who were wounded, at a hospital in the town of Deir al-Balah, southern Gaza. The injured had been shot in the legs, the account says.
Witnesses said Israeli troops were opening fire on people trying to head north, although this cannot be independently confirmed.
As to why the civilians are on the move at this point, Sofian Abu Amer, who had earlier fled Gaza City, told AP: “We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks. The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.”
Ahead of the ceasefire in Gaza, Iraq and Syria have both seen more attacks on U.S. forces. Citing an unnamed U.S. military official, Reuters reports that U.S. and international forces were attacked at two different sites in northeastern Syria yesterday. Multiple rockets and a one-way attack drone were used, but there were no casualties or damage to infrastructure, the official said.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, multiple one-way drones were launched at Al-Asad Air Base, west of Baghdad, while another drone was launched at a U.S. base near Erbil Airport in northern Iraq. There were also unconfirmed reports of a ground assault on Al-Asad Air Base by insurgents.
Responsibility for the attacks in Iraq yesterday was claimed by the self-styled Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a name that appears to be a catch-all for several Iraqi armed groups that are aligned with Iran.
On Wednesday, the U.S. military launched an airstrike on another Iran-backed group, known as Kataeb Hezbollah, south of Baghdad. That group said that eight of its members were killed in that attack, which was prosecuted by a U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship.
Clearly, it seems the ceasefire will not affect operations by Iran-affiliated groups allied with Hamas elsewhere in the Middle East. In a statement on social media, Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for the military wing of Hamas, pointed to the efforts of different militant groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, and praised them for their support.
A striking video has emerged in the aftermath of the capture of the Galaxy Leader, a Bahamian-flagged vehicle carrier by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. You can read all about that incident, which involved a helicopter-borne raid, in our previous reporting. The newly emerged footage shows some of the rebels dancing on the vessel after its capture. The Galaxy Leader was taken to the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, where it remains now, with its crew being held by the rebels.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news to report about the Israel-Hamas war.
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