First Day of Truce Between Israel and Hamas Passes Without Incident in Gaza

The people of Gaza woke up to a different sound after 49 days of turmoil. With the implementation of a four-day truce between Israel and Hamas, the deafening noise of bombings and Israeli troops advancing has been replaced by the significant entry of humanitarian aid into the devastated Gaza Strip.

Both sides are respecting the ceasefire, which also includes the exchange of 50 Israeli hostages captured on October 7th for 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. This article will delve into the details of the truce and its implications for both sides.

Implementation of the Truce

The truce, which was delayed by a day, finally came into effect at 07:00 local time in Gaza. It marked a moment of relief for the war-torn region as humanitarian assistance flooded in, providing much-needed relief to the displaced population.

As part of the agreement, 13 Israeli hostages were released and transported back to Israel via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The freed hostages, comprising five elderly women and children aged between two and nine, were greeted with joy upon their arrival.

A second group of hostages, consisting of 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino, was also released outside the framework of the Israel-Hamas agreement. These developments offer a glimmer of hope for the families of the remaining captives who anxiously await news of their loved ones’ release.

The Liberated Hostages

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the release of the 13 hostages in a video statement, emphasizing their individual importance. He reiterated the government’s commitment to securing the freedom of all remaining captives.

The United States President, Joe Biden, expressed optimism during a press conference, stating that there are real possibilities for extending the Gaza ceasefire beyond the initial four days.

The names of the 13 freed hostages were released by Netanyahu’s office. Among them were Doron Katz-Asher, a 34-year-old man accompanied by his children Raz and Aviv, aged four and two respectively.

Two mothers and their children, aged five and nine, were also among the released hostages, along with the grandmother of one of the children. Additionally, five elderly women, with the oldest being 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, were part of the group. Adar had been captured in a photograph by Hamas on October 7th, looking resigned as she was transported in a golf cart-like vehicle.

Celebrations and Hope

In Tel Aviv, now known as the Plaza of the Hostages and the Disappeared, thousands of Israelis gathered to celebrate the agreement. They sang popular songs and played the piano as a tribute to one of the hostages. The news of the safe return of the 13 Israeli women and children brought mixed emotions to the crowd, with a sense of relief for those freed and concern for those still held captive.

The Sabbath table, set with 240 empty chairs, serves as a reminder of those who have yet to be reunited with their loved ones. Photos, candles, banners, and graffiti bearing messages such as “Bring them home,” “We are waiting for you,” and “Our hearts are imprisoned in Gaza” capture the prevailing sentiment.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Qadura Fares, the Palestinian Commissioner for Prisoners, confirmed the release of 39 prisoners, including 24 women and 15 minors. The liberation of this first group of Palestinians brought a sense of victory to the people of the West Bank.

Laith Othman, a 17-year-old who waved a Hamas flag upon his release from an Israeli prison, was welcomed as a hero in his hometown of Betunia. The surrounding walls were adorned with Palestinian, Hamas, and Fatah flags, the latter being the main faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

The Released Prisoners

The 39 released prisoners are part of a larger list of 300 potential candidates for release, should the agreement be extended. The Israeli Ministry of Justice published the list, labeling them as terrorists, although the majority have been convicted by military courts for minor offenses such as throwing stones at soldiers and settlers.

However, more than half of the 30 women on the list are currently imprisoned, facing charges of attempted murder. The Palestinian Authority estimates that there are approximately 8,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, with an increase in arrests following the October 7th attack.

Hope for Gaza

In Gaza, families who were displaced by the war, accounting for 80% of the population of 2.3 million, took to the streets early in the morning to gather their belongings and return to their homes or search for their loved ones amid the rubble.

They ventured out without fear of bombings, even making their way to the beach. Disturbingly, videos shared on social media show the discovery of old corpses along the road used by displaced families to flee from the bombings.

Israeli military distributed leaflets in southern Gaza, where over a million people have been forcibly displaced, warning them not to return to their homes in the north as it is prohibited and dangerous.

The humanitarian pause has a delimited duration. Israel has committed to suspending attacks on the Gaza Strip for four days and partially halting aerial surveillance. Likewise, Hamas has pledged to cease its already dwindling rocket launches. Both parties are observing the ceasefire, with only minor incidents reported.