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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - RAFAH — The first group of Israeli hostages to be released under a ceasefire deal with Hamas were freed on Friday, according to officials and media reports.
Twenty-four people are in the group of hostages released Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed.
“We are relieved to confirm the safe release of 24 hostages. We have facilitated this release by transporting them from Gaza to the Rafah border, marking the real-life impact of our role as a neutral intermediary between the parties,” the agency said on X.
The Red Cross did not say how many of the freed hostages were from Israel and how many were from Thailand.
Hamas released 13 Israeli women and children who have been held in the Gaza Strip since the Palestinian group staged a raid on Israel nearly seven weeks ago.
Twelve Thai nationals were also released, according to Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. An Israeli official confirmed that the Thai captives left Gaza and were en route to a hospital in Israel.
In all, 50 captives had been expected to be freed during a four-day truce.
A total of 39 Palestinian detainees are due to be released from Israeli jails on Friday in exchange for a group of hostages held by Hamas.
The detainees are accused of a range of offenses, from throwing stones to attempted murder.
Red Cross buses are reported to have arrived at Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank ready to release the 24 women and 15 teenage boys aged under 18.
They will be transferred to an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank and then allowed to return home, according to Israel's prison service.
The detainees were chosen from a list of 300 women and minors compiled by Israel.
The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, mediated by Qatar, began Friday, allowing sorely needed aid to start flowing into Gaza and setting the stage for the exchange.
There were no reports of fighting after the truce began. The deal offered some relief for Gaza's 2.3 million people, who have endured weeks of Israeli bombardment and dwindling supplies of basic necessities, as well as for families in Israel worried about loved ones taken captive during Oct. 7 Hamas raid.
The truce raised hopes of eventually winding down the conflict, which has flattened vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.
On Friday, it brought quiet after weeks in which Gaza saw heavy bombardment and artillery fire daily as well as street fighting as ground troops advanced through neighborhoods in the north. The last report of air raid sirens in Israeli towns near the territory came shortly after the truce took effect.
Not long after, four tankers with fuel and four with cooking gas entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt, Israel said.
Israel has agreed to allow the delivery of 130,000 liters (34,340 gallons) of fuel per day during the truce — still only a small portion of Gaza’s estimated daily needs of more than 1 million liters.
For most of the past seven weeks of war, Israel had barred the entry of fuel to Gaza, claiming it could be used by Hamas for military purposes — though it has occasionally allowed small amounts in.
UN aid agencies pushed back against the claim, saying fuel deliveries were closely supervised and urgently needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe since fuel is required to run generators that power water treatment facilities, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
The Israeli military dropped leaflets over southern Gaza, warning hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who sought refuge there not to return to their homes in the territory's north, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive.
Even though Israel warned that it would block such attempts, hundreds of Palestinians could be seen walking north Friday.
Two Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli troops and another 11 were wounded. An Associated Press journalist saw the two bodies and the wounded as they arrived at a hospital.
Sofian Abu Amer, who had fled Gaza City, said he decided to risk heading north to check on his home.
“We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” he said. ”The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die."
During the cease-fire, Gaza’s ruling Hamas group pledged to free at least 50 of the about 240 hostages it and other militants took on Oct. 7. Hamas said Israel would free 150 Palestinian prisoners.
Both sides agreed to release women and children first, in stages starting Friday. Israel said the deal calls for the truce to be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.
Early in the day, ambulances were seen arriving at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, preparing for the release. Those freed will then be taken to hospitals for assessment and treatment, Israeli officials said.
Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 prisoners eligible for release, mainly teenagers detained over the past year for rock-throwing and other minor offenses. Three Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released for every hostage freed.
The hope is that “momentum” from the deal will lead to an “end to this violence,” said Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which served as a mediator along with the United States and Egypt.
But hours before it came into effect, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was quoted telling troops that their respite would be short and that the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months.
Israel's northern border with Lebanon was also quiet on Friday, a day after the militant Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting there began Oct. 8.
Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire agreement, but was widely expected to halt its attacks.
The captive soldiers will only be released in exchange for all Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, according to the Islamic Jihad militant group, which is reportedly holding about 40 hostages.
It is not clear how many of the hostages are currently serving in the military or whether the militants also consider reserve soldiers to be “military hostages.”
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians on security charges or convictions, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.
Families of the 39 detainees due for release on Friday will gather later at a nearby checkpoint to receive them.
The road by Beituniya checkpoint, near Ramallah, is sharp with the smell of tear gas. Groups of Palestinian men and boys are facing the Israeli army lined up on the road ahead.
The army earlier fired rubber bullets and tear gas towards the crowd, to push them back.
Some of the young people gathered threw stones and tear gas canisters back toward the troops.
An uneasy calm has settled for now, as families begin to arrive. But the growing crowd is edging closer to the checkpoint again.
Human rights organisations say the number of Palestinians held without charge in Israeli jails has shot up since the October 7 attacks.
Almost every Palestinian family in the West Bank is thought to have had a relative detained by Israel at some point in the past — often in jails inside Israel, making it difficult or impossible for their relatives to visit. — Agencies
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