Israel approves hostage exchange agreement with Hamas
The Israeli government cabinet voted in favor of approving a hostage exchange agreement with Hamas on Tuesday, following more than six weeks of intense fighting in Gaza.
In a statement, the office of the Israeli Prime Minister said that 50 hostages – women and children – will be released by Hamas over the course of 4 days.
During this time, there will be a ceasefire in Israeli military actions in Gaza, the statement added.
Meanwhile, Hamas also issued a statement saying that the 50 hostages “will be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children who are detained in Israeli prisons.”
The agreement will also allow the entry of hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and fuel into Gaza.
This will “alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza,” said US President Joe Biden.
The start of the ceasefire will be announced within the next 24 hours.
More than 50?
The Israeli government said that the ceasefire could extend beyond the original period, adding an additional day for every ten hostages released.
This is an important part of the agreement for the families of the hostages, some of whom had expressed that they did not want to see a partial agreement.
“The government of Israel, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), and the security services will continue the fight to bring all the hostages home, complete the elimination of Hamas, and ensure that there will be no new threat to the State of Israel from Gaza,” concludes the statement from Netanyahu’s office.
There are around 230 hostages held captive in Gaza, including foreign citizens from 26 countries, according to the Israeli army. They were kidnapped by Hamas militants during their attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in about 1,200 deaths.
The Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks in Gaza since that date have resulted in more than 14,000 deaths, although the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Tuesday that it had lost the ability to count the dead due to the destruction of the necessary infrastructure.
Among the victims are more than 5,000 children.
In recent days, tensions between the Israeli government and the families of the hostages have escalated, with some accusing the authorities of not doing enough to secure the release of their loved ones and of instrumentalizing the kidnappings to justify their military campaign in Gaza.
Israel has published a list of 300 Palestinians who could be released following the agreement reached with Hamas. Among them, 274 are men, mostly teenagers between the ages of 17 and 18.
The list has been published because Israeli legislation requires that, before any prisoner release, Israelis must be informed within a 24-hour period in case they want to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.
This has delayed the start of the exchange.
United States, Qatar, and Egypt involved
Joe Biden celebrated the agreement on Tuesday, saying he was “extremely pleased” that some of the hostages who have had to endure “weeks of captivity and indescribable suffering” will be able to be reunited with their families.
Barbara Plett, BBC correspondent for the US State Department, explains that the US has been heavily involved in achieving the agreement, which also has the mediation of Qatar and Egypt.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself attributed the credit for improving the terms of the agreement to Joe Biden, so that it had “more hostages and fewer costs.”
Meanwhile, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he hopes the deal will establish “a comprehensive and sustainable agreement” that puts an end to “the shedding of blood,” and that it will lead to “serious peace talks for a comprehensive and fair peace process.”
A senior US official said they expect at least three US citizens, including a 3-year-old girl, to be among the hostages released in the coming days.
In remarks to reporters, the official added that the girl, named Abigail, will turn four on Friday and that her parents were killed in the October 7 attacks carried out by Hamas.
According to the official, Washington expects the number of hostages to be released “to be more than 50, but I don’t want to give a specific number.”
“The way the agreement is structured greatly incentivizes the release of all,” he added.
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