ঢাকাশনিবার, ১৮ই মে, ২০২৪ খ্রিস্টাব্দ

First wave of hostages released by Hamas fighters during Gaza ceasefire

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নভেম্বর ২৫, ২০২৩ ২:০২ অপরাহ্ণ
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Masked Hamas gunmen freed a first wave of hostages Friday in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, sparking rare scenes of celebration in a seven-week war that has killed thousands of people.

During a carefully orchestrated swap carried out at the start of a four-day ceasefire, Israelis beeped horns and applauded in the street as ambulances took the hostages to hospital for check-ups in the late evening, AFP video images showed.

Hamas released 24 hostages in total, according to key mediator Qatar and an official Israeli list. They comprised 13 Israelis — all of whom were women and children, including dual citizens — 10 Thais and one Filipino citizen.

Israel in turn freed 39 women and children from its prisons.

A two-minute video released by Hamas showed masked militants with rifles, wearing military fatigues and the green headband of its armed wing, as they handed hostages over to Red Cross officials.

The captives had been in Hamas’ hands since its fighters smashed through Gaza’s militarised border with Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and seizing around 240 Israelis and foreigners, according to Israel.

In response to the deadliest attack in its history, Israel launched an air, artillery and naval offensive to destroy Hamas, killing about 15,000 people, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.

Hamas is expected to free 50 hostages during the ceasefire in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, part of an agreement struck after talks involving Israel, Palestinian militant groups, Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

“I am determined to help my family recover from the terrible trauma and loss we went through,” said Yoni Asher, whose wife Doron and two daughters, aged two and four, were freed after 49 days held hostage in Gaza.

“It’s allowed to feel joy and it’s allowed to shed a tear,” Asher said in a video released by the Hostage Families Forum. He vowed not to celebrate until the last of the hostages returned home.

– ‘Four walls’ –

Among the freed hostages, four children and four women were admitted to Schneider Children’s Medical Centre.

Their physical condition is “good” and they will undergo a medical and psychological assessment, the hospital’s chief executive, Efrat Bron-Harlev, said.

On the other side, Palestinians cheered the return of prisoners from Israeli jails.

Of the 39 prisoners freed by Israel on Friday, 28 were released in the occupied West Bank, an AFP correspondent reported, while the other 11 were brought to annexed east Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.

Crowds of Palestinians in the West Bank set off firecrackers into the night sky, waved flags and whistled as two white coaches ferried prisoners out of the Ofer military camp, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

“I spent the end of my childhood and my adolescence in prison, far from my parents and their hugs,” freed prisoner Marah Bakir, 24, told AFP after returning to her home in annexed east Jerusalem.

“That’s how it is with a state that oppresses us.”

Earlier in the evening, Israeli authorities fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. The Palestinian Red Crescent said three people were shot and wounded by Israeli security forces.

“The police are in our house and are stopping people from coming to see us,” said Fatina Salman, whose daughter Malak, now 23, was among those released.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring all the Hamas hostages home.

“This is one of the goals of the war, and we are committed to achieving all the goals of the war,” he said.

US President Joe Biden said Friday’s release was just a “start”.

“This morning, I’ve been engaged with my team as we began the first couple days of implementing this deal. It’s only a start, but so far it’s gone well,” he told reporters in Massachusetts, where he was spending the Thanksgiving holiday.

Asked about the American women and children hostages who could be released as part of the deal, Biden said he did not know when they would be set free but “we expect it to occur”.

Biden urged a broader effort to emerge from the crisis with a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

– Humanitarian convoy –

The pause in fighting in Gaza opened the way to desperately needed aid.

Trucks carrying supplies, including fuel, food and medicine, began moving into Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt shortly after the truce began at 7:00 am (0500 GMT).

Two hundred aid trucks passed through on Friday — the biggest humanitarian convoy to enter the besieged territory since the war started — according to the Israeli defence ministry body that handles Palestinian civil affairs.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for UN humanitarian agency OCHA, expressed hope that the pause would lead “to a longer-term humanitarian ceasefire”.

Gazans have struggled to survive with shortages of water and other essentials.

The ceasefire also sparked a mass movement of thousands of people who had sought refuge in schools and hospitals from relentless Israeli bombardment.

The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.

“I’m going home,” Omar Jibrin, 16, told AFP after he emerged from a hospital in the south of the Gaza Strip where he and eight family members had sought refuge.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis, where many Palestinians fled, a cacophony of car horns and ambulance sirens replaced the sound of war.

People loaded belongings onto carts, strapped them to car roofs, or slung bags over their shoulders, crowding streets to return to their homes from temporary shelters.

Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people that the war is not over and it is “very dangerous” to return north, the focus of Israel’s military campaign.

Several thousand Palestinians nevertheless attempted to move north on Friday, the UN humanitarian affairs organisation said.

– Carefully prepared –

Ziv Agmon, legal adviser to Netanyahu’s office, told reporters that Israeli soldiers had been carefully prepared to receive potentially deeply traumatised women and children.

After medical examinations, the former captives will be able to telephone family members before reunions later at Israeli medical facilities, he added.

Hamas earlier released four women and Israeli forces rescued another. Two other captives, including a woman soldier, were found dead by Israeli troops in Gaza.

Maayan Zin, whose daughters Ela and Dafna, aged eight and 15, are among the hostages, posted on social media platform X that she had been informed their names were not on the list of those due to be released.

“This is incredibly difficult for me; I long for their return,” she wrote.