The release of hostages held in Gaza has been pushed back 24 hours after Israel and Hamas failed to agree on which captives should be freed first, a Palestinian official said. Israel agreed on a deal that will see 50 women and children kidnapped by Hamas gunmen in October freed during a four-day truce.
The process of recovering those hostages was expected to start today at 10am (8am GMT) but officials said that no captives would be released until Friday, prolonging their relatives’ torment.
The truce was delayed because Israel and Hamas failed to agree on which hostages would be released first and how, a Palestinian official said, adding that a list of those to be freed had been exchanged by both sides.
Questions were also being raised over Red Cross access to the hostages before they would be released into Egypt, the official, who has knowledge of the negotiation process, said.
Details about when the ceasefire would go into effect would be announced by mediator Qatar ‘in co-ordination with the Egyptians and the Americans, in the coming hours of today,’ he said.
Israeli officials have said that they would not tell the families in advance to spare them the distress if Hamas were to change their minds or choose to release different relatives when the ceasefire begins.
Last night, Daniel Hagari, the IDF spokesperson, said the release of the hostages, in exchange for 150 Palestinians, was a ‘complicated and not closed process’.
Speaking on Thursday morning, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majid bin Mohammed Al Ansari said an announcement on the beginning of the truce could come in the next few hours. Qatar has been mediating in the negotiations on the truce.
‘The negotiations on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,’ Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
‘The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday,’ it said.
White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson said final logistical details for the release were being worked out. ‘That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning,’ Watson said.
News of the delay in the truce broke just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed during a televised news conference to ‘rescue all hostages held by Hamas’ and ‘obliterate’ the terrorist group.
Netanyahu, joined by the two other members of his special war cabinet, also said that following the four-day ceasefire, the war would resume and continue ‘until we achieve all our goals’.
Israel’s goals are to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and return all 240 hostages held captive in Gaza.
Under the terms of the ceasefire agreement, Hamas is to free 50 women and children of the around 240 hostages it is holding in the Gaza Strip over a four-day period, the Israeli government said.
In return, Israel will free 150 Palestinians held in Israeli jails and allow 300 aid trucks into Gaza every day of the ceasefire to get much-needed aid to civilians trapped there.
The hostages to be freed in the process are women and children, and the Palestinian prisoners are women and male detainees aged 18 and younger.
There are at least 35 children among the hostages, 18 of them aged 10 and under, according to an AFP count, as well as more than 50 women.
Israel said the exchange would take place in two phases. In a first step, 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are set to be released during the truce. If successful, a second phase could see 150 more Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for another 50 hostages during an extended truce, the Israeli government said.