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Hamas has released 24 hostages who had been held in the Gaza Strip, according to Qatar, as the Palestinian militant group’s truce with Israel took hold.
The group were transferred to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, the ICRC said, in preparation for travelling to Egypt and then Israel. Thirteen Israelis had reached the Egyptian side, an Israeli official said.
Those released also included 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino, said Qatar’s foreign ministry, which added that 39 Palestinian prisoners had been released as part of a hostage swap included in a truce agreement that took effect on Friday.
Egyptian television showed images of a convoy of Red Cross vehicles it said held the former Hamas hostages crossing towards Egypt’s territory via the Rafah crossing from Gaza on Friday afternoon.
“We are relieved to confirm the safe release of 24 hostages,” said the ICRC.
“It’s a tremendous relief that after enduring weeks of distress, they can finally reunite with their families,” the group said.
News of the ongoing release process followed the start of a four-day halt to hostilities between Israel and Hamas on Friday morning, the first since the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip triggered the war with a devastating attack on Israel on October 7.
The pause in fighting, brokered by Qatar, set the stage for the staggered release of 50 women and children held by Hamas and 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Dozens of Thai workers were also seized by the militant group alongside Israelis, dual nationals and others on October 7, with a total of about 240 people taken captive, according to Israeli officials. The release of the Thais had not previously been announced.
In another sign that the tenuous truce agreement was progressing, four tankers of fuel and cooking gas entered besieged Gaza on Friday. This was done “within the framework of the truce and the schedule for the release of the hostages”, the Israeli defence ministry said.
The deal was structured such that both sides must abide by a sequence of events, with Israel allowing aid deliveries, Hamas releasing hostages and Israel in turn releasing prisoners, said a person familiar with the situation. This sequence must be repeated each day for the ceasefire to hold.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday night that Israel would continue the war after the pause was over.
About 1,200 people were killed in Israel during Hamas’s assault on October 7, Israeli officials have said. Some 13,300 people have died in Israel’s bombardment and ground incursion into Gaza since then, according to officials in the Hamas-controlled strip, while 1.7mn people have been displaced.