Nine-year-old Irish-Israeli national Emily Hand, who was taken hostage from kibbutz Be’eri on October 7th, is not in the first batch of captives due to be set free by Hamas on Friday.
The Hand family issued a statement expressing happiness that the hostages are finally being released, saying they are hoping to see the first 13 captives on Friday healthy and safe. “We remain optimistic and hope to see Emily with us in the coming days,” the statement said.
On Thursday afternoon, Hamas provided Israel with a list of the first group of hostages to be released and the Israeli authorities immediately informed all the 239 families of the captives.
Barring a last-minute hitch, a ceasefire will go into effect in Gaza at 5am (Irish time) on Friday and 13 Israeli hostages will be handed over to Red Cross representatives at about 2pm.
The ceasefire is set to last for four days, during which a total of 50 Israeli hostages – children, mothers and elderly women – are expected to be released, in return for some 150 Palestinian prisoners, including women and minors, most of them residents of the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.
Significant quantities of humanitarian aid and fuel will enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
The hostage release, brokered by Qatar, the US and Egypt, was supposed to have begun on Thursday, but was delayed by a day due to what was termed “technical difficulties”.
Israeli minister for defence Yoav Gallant told troops on Thursday that once the “short” temporary truce ends, the military will resume the fighting “with intensity” for at least two more months. “There will be a continuation, because we need to complete the victory and create the impetus for the next groups of hostages, who will only come back as a result of pressure,” he said.
Fighting continued Thursday, in advance of the expected truce. Israeli forces said they conducted raids on Hamas targets in the Shati refugee camp. The army said it is preparing to prevent the return of Gaza residents, who fled from the north to avoid the worst of the fighting, during the ceasefire.
Israeli troops arrested the director of Gaza city’s al-Shifa hospital, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, as he was making his way via the humanitarian corridor to the southern Gaza Strip, apparently trying to flee the hospital and the Israeli-controlled area in northern Gaza.
A statement from the Israeli military said that under his management, “there was extensive Hamas terrorist activity” at the hospital, which Israeli forces entered last week.
Hamas denies Israeli allegations, backed by Washington, that the organisation operated a command and control centre under Shifa hospital. Over the last few days the Israeli military has released video clips which it claims shows an extensive Hamas tunnel network under the hospital.
The Hamas-run ministry for health in Gaza says more than 14,000 residents have been killed in Israeli attacks. About 1,200 people, mainly civilians, were killed on October 7th in Israel when 3,000 gunmen stormed across the border, entering 22 Israeli communities.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday night, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he had informed US president Joe Biden that Israel was determined to continue fighting immediately after the ceasefire expires.