Thank you for following our LIVE coverage of day 49 of the Hamas-Israel war.
You can read a summary of events here, which tonight includes some background about Palestinian prisoners and their role in the hostage exchange.
We'll be back tomorrow with more news updates and analysis right here at L'Orient Today.
For the families of Palestinian detainees freed by Israel under a hostage deal agreed upon with Hamas, relief is tinged with sadness about the fighting that is set to continue in Gaza after the expiry of a four-day truce, Reuters reports.
"There is no real joy, even this little joy we feel as we wait," said Sawsan Bkeer, the mother of 24-year-old Palestinian prisoner Marah Bkeer, jailed for eight years on knife and assault charges in 2015. Israeli police were seen raiding her Jerusalem home before her daughter was released.
The hostage-prisoner exchange deal under way as of today is only the start, says US President Joe Biden during a press conference happening now. He says he expects more hostages to be released in the coming days, and that two Americans, a woman and a child, remain among those still missing, according to a Reuters report.
"Hamas does not give a damn about Palestinians," Biden tells reporters. He says that he doesn't trust Hamas to do anything right, only to respond to pressure, adding that the one reason for Hamas' Oct. 7 attack was the US working with Saudi Arabia and Israel to establish a normalization of ties, Reuters reports.
Biden also says that the chances of extending the truce are "real," but that he doesn't know how long the war will go on for. He urges Netanyahu to limit the number of casualties going forward, as Israel seeks to eliminate Hamas.
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says four Germans were among the 24 hostages released from captivity in Gaza on the first day of a four-day truce, Reuters reports.
They were among the around 240 people abducted by Hamas militants who raided several villages in the Gaza Envelope in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
"I am so incredibly relieved that 24 hostages were just released from Gaza, among them four Germans, and that a father, after 49 days of hell, of unbelievable fear, can finally embrace again his two small daughters and his wife," says Baerbock, on the sidelines of a party conference of her Greens party.
"The release of all the remaining hostages, especially the Germans among them, remains a top priority," she added.
The minister says the government also acknowledges the suffering of the people of Gaza. Northern parts of the enclave have been cut off from outside help for weeks, with one UN spokesperson describing it as a "hell on earth."
"The ceasefire must last as long as possible now to ensure the people of Gaza receive vital goods like medicine, food, water and aid," Baerbock says.
Israeli forces are using the four-day truce with Hamas, agreed to allow some hostages to be returned, to prepare the next phase of their operation in the Gaza Strip, Israel's chief military spokesperson says, according to a Reuters report.
"During the days of the truce, the [Israeli army] will complete its preparation and readiness for the next stages of the war," Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a regular briefing.
Thirty-nine Palestinian prisoners, including women and children, were released from prison today by the Israeli authorities in exchange for Israeli hostages released by Hamas, the Prisoners' Club, an NGO that defends Palestinian prisoners, reported to AFP.
AFP journalists saw buses leaving the Israeli prison of Ofer, in the occupied West Bank, where the prisoners were transferred in preparation for their release. Twenty-eight of them were dropped off in the West Bank, while eleven others were taken to occupied East Jerusalem, the NGO said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement following the release of 13 women and children from Hamas captivity today, saying, "We have now completed the return of the first of our hostages. Children, their mothers and other women," Haaretz reports.
"The return of the kidnapped is one of the goals of the war," he says. "We are committed to achieving all the objectives of the war. We are committed to the return of all our hostages."
The pause in fighting today triggered a mass movement of Gazans who had sought refuge in schools and hospitals. Thousands are emerging from where they took shelter over the last 49 days of relentless bombing, AFP reports.
"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 sought refuge.
In Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza where many Palestinians fled to, a cacophony of car horns and ambulance sirens has replaced the sound of war.
Israeli special forces are with the hostages released from Gaza today who underwent medical checks once having arrived in Israel, Reuters reports. The Israeli army has also released their names. The list includes four children and family members, and five elderly women.
"The released hostages underwent an initial medical assessment inside Israeli territory. They will continue to be accompanied by [Israeli] soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families," the military says.
The International Red Cross confirms that its teams have started carrying out a multi-day operation to facilitate the release and transfer of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian detainees in Israel, Reuters reports.
A spokesperson confirmed that 24 hostages were transferred out of Gaza and handed over to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing. He said they were accompanied by eight staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a four-car convoy.
"The deep pain that family members separated from their loved ones feel is indescribable. We are relieved that some will be reunited after long agony," said Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC's regional director for the Near and Middle East.
No further details were given. The ICRC, a neutral, Swiss-based organization, also says the operation involves the delivery of additional, much-needed aid into Gaza.
Thirty-nine women and children detained in Israeli prisons have been released, Reuters reports, citing a statement on X by Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.
Qatar also clarified that the hostages released from Hamas today include 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and one Filipino — 24 in total.
Pictured above: A Red Cross vehicle, as part of a convoy believed to be carrying hostages abducted by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, is seen arriving at the Rafah border, amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip tonight. (Credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirms that 24 hostages were released from Gaza, Reuters reports.
An Israeli security source says that 13 Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip have been handed over into Israeli custody. The source told AFP: "The 13 Israeli hostages are now with the Israeli security services" after they were released on the first day of a four-day truce in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza's largest hospital al-Shifa earlier today, the Gaza Health Ministry said, on the first day of a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, AFP reports.
The Israeli military raided al-Shifa Hospital last week, targeting what it claimed was a Hamas command center in a tunnel complex beneath the medical facility. The Palestinian militant group and hospital officials have repeatedly denied the claim. Thousands of people were trapped in the hospital during the siege, including critically ill patients, premature babies, and the displaced.
A source close to Hamas confirms some Thai hostages held in the Gaza Strip were freed today, as part of the first group of hostages released under a ceasefire deal with Israel, AFP reports.
"Hamas made a gesture to also release some Thai foreigners," the source close to the Islamist movement says after Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin confirmed 12 Thai hostages were released, in a post on X.
Heavy traffic jams lead up to the Lebanese army checkpoint in Saida, southern Lebanon, during the first day of a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas. So far, both Hezbollah and Israel have ceased aggressions at the border as well, following daily attacks from the two sides on border villages since Oct. 7. Thousands of Lebanese fled their homes in the south due to the conflict. The war has killed around one hundred people in Lebanon, most of them Hezbollah militants. Thirteen civilians and three journalists are also counted among the casualties. (Photo courtesy of Muntasser Abdallah)
Two sources close to Hamas say that the first group of hostages have been handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Gaza Strip for their return to Israel, AFP reports.
"Half an hour ago, the prisoners were handed over to the Red Cross, which will take them to the Egyptians" via the Rafah border crossing, and then to the Israelis, one of them said. A second source confirmed the information shortly afterwards.
The 13 Israeli hostages, of the expected 25 total hostages to be released, are now with Red Cross in Egypt, the Israeli Prime Minister's office says, according to a CNN report.
A crowd, including members of the media, gather at Rafah border as Hamas militants are expected to release hostages abducted during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal with Israel, as seen from southern Gaza Strip Nov. 24, 2023. (Credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas rejects "any attempt to displace Palestinians from Gaza or the occupied West Bank, including those in East Jerusalem," during a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was visiting Ramallah, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Prime Minister of Thailand Srettha Thavisin confirms that 12 Thai hostages have already been released by Hamas, saying that "embassy officials are on their way to pick them up in another hour," in a post on his official X account.
The full post reads: "It has been confirmed by the Security Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that there are 12 Thai hostages already released. Embassy officials are on their way to pick them up in another hour. Their names and details should be known. Please stay tuned."
Egypt is preparing to receive a number of Israeli hostages to be released by Hamas as part of the truce and hostage swap deal agreed upon with Israel under Qatari and Egyptian mediation, Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) says in a statement, according to a Reuters report.
"Egypt's mediation efforts have yielded the release of 12 Thai hostages and 13 Israelis, including women and children, held by Hamas," the government media office says.
The exchange is scheduled to begin now, at 4 p.m. in Gaza.
Israeli Yasur military helicopter stands on the tarmac during preparations for the arrival of children who have been held hostage in the Gaza Strip who 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, at an unspecified location in Israel, as seen in a handout picture released on Nov. 24, 2023. (Credit: Israeli military/Handout/Reuters)
The Lebanese army command has warned the population of southern Lebanon wishing to return home, against the explosive remnants of war left by the latest Israeli attacks.
In a press release, the command calls on citizens "to exercise the greatest caution, in particular with regard to phosphorous munitions and unexploded munitions," inviting them not to approach them but rather to contact the military operations command at 1701.
Americans are not expected to be part of the first group of hostages to be released Friday afternoon by Hamas, CNN reports, citing an American official.
This official said, however, that he hoped that American hostages would be among the first 50 people released by the Palestinian Islamist group.
Smoke and fire rise from a building following an Israeli strike on what the Israeli military says are Hezbollah targets in a location given as Lebanon, amid the ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in this screengrab taken from an undated handout video released on Nov. 24, 2023.
(Credit: Israeli military/Handout/Reuters)
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, said, in a recording, that the group is committed to the truce agreement and prisoner swap as long as Israel is as well, Reuters reports.
Palestinians walk through debris upon their return to Khan Younis to inspect their homes following weeks of Israeli bombardment, in the Khezaa district on the eastern outskirts of the southern Gaza Strip city on Nov. 24, 2023. (Credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP)
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French police detained the Algerian Nice footballer Youcef Atal on Friday as part of a probe into alleged "justification of terrorism" following a post he made about the war between Hamas and Israel, prosecutors say, according to AFP.
Atal was banned from playing for seven matches last month over the same post that was allegedly anti-Jewish, which he subsequently deleted and issued an apology. An investigation was opened at the behest of the local prefect and mayor of Nice.
Palestinians who have been stuck in Egypt due to the war in Gaza have begun returning to the enclave via the Rafah crossing, according to Haaretz, citing Kamal al-Khatib, the Palestinian embassy's delegate at the Rafah crossing and head of the Palestinian community in the Sinai region.
An agreement between the Egyptian authorities and the Palestinian embassy in Cairo has permitted some of the
920 Palestinians who are thought to be stranded in al-Arish, to cross back into the Gaza Strip.
World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that the international body is working to evacuate more people from al-Shifa Hospital amid concerns for their safety, Reuters reports.
"We're extremely concerned about the safety of the estimated 100 patients and health workers remaining at al-Shifa," he said.
He did not comment on the Gazan health ministry saying that it was suspending ties with the WHO after medical staff from the hospital were detained by Israel.
Four Hamas fighters, two Lebanese and two Turks, killed in an Israeli raid this week in southern Lebanon, were buried Friday at the al-Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli, reports L'Orient Today's correspondent in North Lebanon.
Hamas officials are attending the funeral. The four men will be buried in the cemetery in the Tabbaneh neighborhood of Tripoli.
(Photo: Mohammed Yassin/L'Orient Today)
The head of UNIFIL, General Aroldo Lazaro, expressed concern this Friday about the ongoing exchanges of fire along the Blue Line. He warned of the devastating consequences of a new escalation in southern Lebanon.
“I am concerned by the ongoing intensification of the exchanges of fire along the Blue Line that has already claimed too many lives, caused significant damage, and jeopardized livelihoods,” he said in a statement.
“As peacekeepers, we urge those exchanging fire along the Blue Line to halt this cycle of violence. Any further escalation in Southern Lebanon could have devastating consequences,” he added, calling on the parties to “reaffirm their commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the cessation of hostilities, while seeking long-term solutions to address the underlying causes of the conflict.”
Members of Israeli security forces launch tear gas during clashes with Palestinian protesters in the Wadi Joz neighborhood in east Jerusalem, on Nov. 24, 2023 as violence has escalated in the occupied Palestinian territory amid Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. (Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
10 ambulances have been sent to evacuate patients from Gaza City in the north of the enclave, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service.
Writing on X, (previously Twitter) the organization said the ambulances, which set off from Khan Younis in the south of the coastal strip, aim to bring sick and injured people from Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, the biggest city in the strip.
The Lebanese-Israeli border has remained calm since the start of the temporary cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, AFP reports.
This marks the first time since the war that no attacks from either Hezbollah or the Israelis have taken place.
Hezbollah has said that as long as Israel adheres to the four-day truce in Gaza, then they will as well.
Israel has said that it would restart its offensive in Gaza following the end of the cease-fire, likely meaning that fighting would restart in southern Lebanon as well.
Read more about the calm on the border here.
Four solar tankers and four others carrying cooking gas departed Egypt for UN aid agencies in the southern Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing, says Israel's Arabic-language spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, on X (formerly Twitter).
The operation was approved by political authorities as part of the temporary suspension of military activities and the process of releasing the hostages, as agreed upon with the United States along with the mediation of Qatar and Egypt, specifies the spokesperson. The delivery of the fuel is intended for the operation of vital infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.
The United Kingdom will double its humanitarian aid for Gaza with the announcement on Friday of the release of an additional 30 million pounds (34.5 million euros) and calls for the agreement concluded between Israel and Hamas to be "respected fully," according to information from AFP.
“Today I can announce £30 million of new funding which will go towards vital aid, such as shelter and medical equipment,” Foreign Minister David Cameron was quoted as saying in a statement as he travels the region.
Multiple Palestinians have been injured in the last hour after they were shot at by Israeli soldiers as they attempted to return to northern Gaza, according to multiple media reports.
According to Haaretz, 15 people were injured in the shooting while Al-Jazeera says two people have been killed and seven others injured.
In a video, whose location was verified by L'Orient Today as being al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, a civilian car is shown in front of one of the entrances to the hospital as people place an injured man on a stretcher who is then rushed into the facility. Another video shows a man getting his foot bandaged. The time when the videos were taken could not be independently verified by L'Orient Today, but the location as well as another video from a journalist inside the hospital suggest that the videos were filmed in the aftermath of the shooting today.
According to the terms of the truce, residents of northern Gaza will be allowed to travel south, but no one who is in southern Gaza will be allowed to return to the Israeli-occupied north.
More details on the exchange of Palestinian prisoners:
Israel will release 39 Palestinian prisoners today, in the occupied West Bank in exchange for 13 hostages being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip – reports Reuters, citing a Palestinian official.
It is thought among them are 24 women and 15 male teenagers, who are from the occupied West Bank or Jerusalem.
At 4 p.m. Beirut time they will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross at Israel's Ofer military jail around – says Qadura Fares, the Palestinian commissioner for prisoners.
This will coincide with the planned handover at the Gaza-Egypt border of 13 women and children who were among some 240 people taken hostage by Hamas gunmen during a deadly Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel.
How the hostage and prisoner exchange today is expected to work:
- The Israel Prison Service is beginning the process of discharging Palestinian prisoners who are being released on Friday as part of the negotiated temporary truce and prisoner exchange with Hamas, Haaretz reports. According to a statement released by the IPS, the prisoners will be transferred from Ofer Prison, located near Ramallah and Beituniya, to the Beituniya Checkpoint in the West Bank, and, from there, they will be released to their homes.
- According to the agreement, Hamas should hand over the hostages to the Red Cross, who will accompany them to the Egyptian border.
- At 4 p.m. Beirut time, the 13 hostages being held by Hamas are expected to be handed over to the Israeli army, most likely through the Rafah crossing. They will have an initial medical examination and a telephone call with their families.
Palestinians who had taken refuge in temporary shelters are returning to their homes in eastern Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during the first hours of a four-day truce in the battles between Israel and Hamas militants.
Hostages are set to be released around 16:00 Beirut time today, as the four-day truce between Israel and Hamas begins. (Credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Aid trucks have been seen entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt today, one to two hours after the truce began between Israel and Hamas, Reuters TV footage shows.
Two of the trucks, representing Egyptian organizations, sported banners that said, "Together for Humanity." Another said: "For our brothers in Gaza.
(Credit: Said Khatib/AFP)
Hezbollah says Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, has offered his condolences to the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary wing, Mohammad Raad, whose son, Abbas Mohammad Raad, was among five Hezbollah members killed in an Israeli strike on a house in the village of Beit Yahoun in southern Lebanon on Tuesday evening.
In a statement released today, Hezbollah said that President Assad's condolences were sent via the former Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali.
Ahead of the start of the temporary truce, the Israeli army has destroyed "a route of underground tunnels" and tunnel shafts around the area of al-Shifa Hospital, according to one of its spokespeople.
Posting on X (formerly Twitter) Avichay Adraee said that over the past twenty-four hours, Israeli forces had "continued, on land, air and sea" to destroy targets and to "search suspicious buildings."
There have been no sounds of fighting for the last 20 minutes – according to a BBC Correspondent, Anna Foster, who is in southern Israel.
"You can still see a hint on the skyline of the last air strikes in the 20 or 30 minutes leading up to the beginning of the temporary cease-fire," she says.
She adds that the Israeli military continued their operation "right until the ceasefire began, and slightly afterward it appears" – from what she could hear and see over Gaza.
Before we begin, be sure to read the latest edition of the Morning Brief to make sure that you are caught up on what has been happening.
Thank you for joining us for our coverage of day 49 of the war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza as well as day one of the four-day truce in Gaza.
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