Hostages coming home
After weeks of negotiations led by Qatari and American officials, a deal has been made between Israel and Hamas to free 50 Israeli women and children taken hostage during the terror group’s 7 October attack. In return, Israel has agreed to a 4-day pause in its war on Hamas, and it will release 150 Palestinian women and children being held in Israeli jails. Hamas says the pause will begin at 10am today local time (7pm AEDT…), but Israel has not confirmed that. Whenever it does start, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu says it doesn’t mean an indefinite stop to the fighting – he says Israel “will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel”.
The agreement is that the 50 hostages will be released over the 4 days – Israeli reports say they’ll start to be released in smaller groups from today. And the deal also has the potential to be extended… If Hamas releases 10 extra people, the truce will be extended for an extra day. Analysts say it’s in both sides’ interests to take that up – Hamas is believed to be holding 240 hostages in total, and the pause will allow for much-needed relief on the ground in Gaza. Yesterday, the Palestinian Authority said more than 13,300 people have been killed in the fighting there, including 5,000 children, although the United Nations says it can’t verify that number. Reports also say more than two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been left homeless.
Although the deal has been signed, there’s a 24-hour window for appeals to be lodged with Israel’s Supreme Court – that’s to give citizens the chance to object to the release of the Palestinian prisoners. Qatari officials say once that period has passed, they’ll lock in when the first batch of prisoners will be released. Meanwhile, humanitarian groups are preparing hundreds of trucks to enter Gaza during the pause in fighting – they’ll be carrying food, water, fuel and medical supplies. That medical assistance can’t come soon enough with the World Health Organization planning to evacuate another 3 hospitals in Gaza’s north. UNICEF has also warned the child death toll could rise significantly as the risk of a “mass disease outbreak” increases.
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