Israel to release 39 prisoners as it prepares to receive freed hostages amid truce

By Isaac M November 24, 2023

Israel will release 39 prisoners in exchange for 13 hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, a Palestinian official has said, amid a temporary truce to allow for the swap.

The inmates, all from the occupied West Bank or Jerusalem and including 24 women and 15 teenage males, will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross from a military jail at around 2pm UK time, according to the authorities.

This will coincide with the planned handover at the Gaza-Egypt border of 13 women and children who were among some 240 people kidnapped by militant gunmen during the deadly 7 October rampage in southern Israel, which sparked the latest devastating conflict.

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A van carrying Palestinian prisoners arrives to the Israeli military prison, Ofer, near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, from another Israeli prison, before they are due to be released as part of a deal between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, to free hostages held in Gaza in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, November 24, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Vans carrying Palestinian prisoners arrive at a military jail

The Israel Defence Forces said it had completed preparations for receiving the freed hostages “and give them all the necessary support”.

The group will be accompanied by doctors and trained counsellors aboard the military helicopters for the journey home.

The IDF added: “After the initial reception and medical treatment, the released hostages will continue to hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families.”

Other key developments:

  • Israel says ceasefire could be extended
  • Aid begins to enter the besieged enclave
  • Palestinians are told not to return to northern Gaza
  • Both sides warn the war is not over

The release is part of a Israeli-Hamas truce that began at 5am UK time and appeared to be holding despite both sides accusing each other of sporadic violations.

Israeli tanks have moved away from the northern end of Gaza while there was an absence of hostile activity in the air from warplanes or rockets.

The four-day ceasefire involves the staged release of 50 women and children hostages held by the militants, in return for 150 Palestinian woman and teenagers held in Israeli jails.

Israel says the truce could be extended beyond the initial four days if Hamas continues to release hostages at a
rate of at least 10 per day.

A Palestinian source has said the total released could reach 100.

Pic: IDF
The hostages are set to be flown home by helicopter. Pic: IDF

Pic: IDF
Preparations have been made by Israel to receive the kidnap victims. Pic: IDF

The halt in fighting has also allowed aid to start to flow into the besieged enclave, which has been gripped by a humanitarian crisis following weeks of Israeli bombardment, with fuel and medical supplies cut off.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has warned hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who sought refuge in southern Gaza not to attempt to return to their homes in the northern half of the territory, which has been the focus of the ground offensive against Hamas, describing it as a “dangerous war zone”.

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Sofian Abu Amer, from Gaza City, said: “We are returning to our homes to see and check our conditions there and how our homes are.

“We want to bring clothes and what we need.

“There is no cooking gas, food, or drink. The situation is very tragic.”

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter Gaza Strip from Egypt in Rafah as a temporary ceasefire went into effect Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
The truce has enabled aid to enter Gaza. Pic: AP

But Arabic-language leaflets dropped over southern Gaza on Friday said that “the war has not ended yet” and people should remain in place.

“Returning to the north is prohibited and very dangerous,” the leaflets said.

“Your fate and the fate of your families is in your hands. We have warned you.”

An Israeli soldier gestures from a military vehicle while driving by Israel's border after leaving Gaza during the temporary truce between the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Israel, in Israel, November 24, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
IDF troops leaving Gaza

Despite the cessation in hostilities both sides have warned the war was far from over.

Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, has stressed it was a “temporary truce”.

In a video message, he called for an “escalation of the confrontation with (Israel) on all resistance fronts”, including
the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

As a ceasefire begins, Israel and Gaza holds its breath

At 7am in Israel and Gaza, the long-awaited temporary ceasefire came into effect.

In the minutes leading up to it, large clouds of black smoke could be seen rising from Gaza as the IDF carried out large airstrikes before the truce.

Unlike with previous ceasefires between the two sides, there wasn’t a large barrage of rocket fire from Gaza, perhaps indicating the extent to which Hamas’s rocket capability has been degraded.

Air raid sirens did sound along the Gaza border at 0715 but it’s unclear whether that was a violation of the agreement or a false alarm.

All being well, the first hostages will be released at 4pm this afternoon – 13 women and children. Their relatives have been informed.

A further group will be released tomorrow and on the subsequent days, if the pause holds.

At the same time, Israel will start releasing some of the 150 Palestinians they’ve agreed to free.

And this is a chance to surge humanitarian aid into Gaza – some 200 trucks a day are expected, along with fuel.

Israeli forces have stayed in position in northern Gaza but all Israeli flights over southern Gaza will have to stop, as they will in northern Gaza for six hours a day.

The truce is extremely fragile and with Hamas as fragmented as it now is, the chances of it being broken are high.

But as the sun rises on this Friday morning, people in Israel, and Gaza, hold their breath.

The Israeli military also said fighting would resume shortly.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said: “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.”

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Netanyahu: ‘The war continues’

The truce deal was reached after weeks of intense indirect negotiations, with Qatar, the US, and Egypt serving as mediators.

If it holds, it would mark the first significant break in fighting since Israel declared war on Hamas seven weeks ago.

Israel launched its onslaught on Gaza after insurgents stormed across the border fence on 7 October – killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages.

Israel’s retaliation against the Hamas-ruled territory has killed some 14,000 Gazans, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.

It is the bloodiest episode in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s stated aim is to remove Hamas once and for all.


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