Israel and Hamas reached an agreement enabling the release of some hostages captured by the Palestinian militant group during its Oct. 7 attack on the country, the Israeli government said early Wednesday morning as fighting in Gaza continues.
“Tonight, the government approved the outline for the first stage,” they said in a statement outlining the terms. “The Israeli government, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the security forces will continue the war to return all the abductees, complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that Gaza does not renew any threat to the State of Israel.”
The deal will see Hamas release 30 children, eight mothers and 12 other women, according to Axios and Haaretz. There will be a temporary cease-fire that will begin with four days and be extended by an another day for every 10 additional hostages released by Hamas, The Associated Press added.
The pause in fighting will start Thursday at 10 a.m. local time, Egypt’s state-run Qahera TV channel said, according to AP.
Three U.S. citizens are expected to be freed as part of this agreement, including a 3-year-old whose parents were killed during the Oct. 7 attack, a senior Biden administration official said, according to Reutersand ABC News.
Israel is expected to release about 150 Palestinians, mostly women and children. Israel will also allow 300 aid trucks to enter Gaza per day during the pause in fighting in the Palestinian enclave.
The start time of the exchange will be announced in the next 24 hours, Qatar, the lead mediator in the agreement, said.
“After many days of difficult and complex negotiations, we announce, with the help and blessing of God, that we have reached a humanitarian truce,” Hamas said in a statement obtained by The New York Times.
Haaretz added that all branches of Israel’s security services support the deal. A source told the publication that Hamas may release foreign nationals at the same time in accordance with other deals struck with separate countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed the cease-fire does not mean the end of the war, vowing to continue Israel’s assault against Hamas after the reprieve ends. The country has pledged to continue the fighting until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages are returned.
“We are at war, and we will continue the war,” the prime minister told lawmakers. “We will continue until we achieve all our goals.”
Smoke rises Tuesday after an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel.
A Gaza City resident told AP the fighting has all but let up with airstrikes continuing into Wednesday morning.
“They are mad,” Nasser al-Sheikh told the news agency. “Apparently they want to advance before the truce.”
Qatar and the U.S. have reportedly been working for weeks with both sides on a potential agreement behind the scenes.
President Joe Biden cheered the news of the hostage deal, adding the White House will “not stop until they are all released.”
“I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented,” Biden said late Tuesday. “Today’s deal is a testament to the tireless diplomacy and determination of many dedicated individuals across the United States Government to bring Americans home.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu held a number of meetings, including with his government and war cabinet, “in light of the developments on the issue of freeing the hostages.”
About 240 people are believed to have been kidnapped on Oct. 7, including U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals. While most were reportedly captured by Hamas, other militant groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are also holding hostages.
Hamas has already released four hostages prior to this agreement: two Israeli elderly women and a mother and daughter, who are U.S. nationals.
White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer on Sunday sparked optimism that a deal could be on the horizon, saying they were “maybe closer than we have been since the beginning of this process” to an agreement.
A spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday echoed Finer, telling reporters they were “very hopeful, but we are also very keen for this mediation to succeed in reaching a humanitarian truce.”
Qatar, which has hosted Hamas’ political office in Doha since 2012 under an agreement, has been mediating with the militant group during these talks.
Wednesday’s agreement could bring the first respite to war-weary Palestinians in Gaza, where more than 11,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict, according to health authorities cited by AP.
Israel has relentlessly pounded Gaza with airstrikes and launched a ground offensive on the territory in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, which killed over 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.