By Bassam Massoud and Emily Rose
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The release of hostages under a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas militants will not happen before Friday, Israel’s national security adviser said on Wednesday night.
Israel and Hamas agreed early on Wednesday to a ceasefire in Gaza for at least four days, to let in aid and free at least 50 hostages held by militants in the Palestinian enclave in exchange for at least 150 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
The starting time of the truce and release of hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel had yet to be officially announced. An Egyptian security source said mediators sought a start time of 10 a.m. on Thursday.
Israel’s public broadcaster Kan, citing an Israeli official, reported there was a 24-hour delay in the agreement because the deal was not signed by Hamas and mediator Qatar. The official said they were optimistic the agreement will be implemented when it is signed.
“Negotiations for the release of our captives are progressing and continue all the time,” Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
“The start of the release will proceed according to the original agreement between the parties, and not before Friday,” Hanegbi said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of a potential delay in implementation of the agreement during a press conference late on Wednesday. Hanegbi’s statement was released about an hour after the press conference.
The first truce in a near seven-week-old war, reached after mediation by Qatar, was hailed around the world as a sign of progress that could ease the suffering of civilians in Israel-besieged Gaza and bring more Israeli captives home. Arab ministers praised the agreement but said it should become a first step toward a full ceasefire.
Israel said the ceasefire could be extended further if more hostages were freed, and a Palestinian source said as many as 100 hostages in total could be released by the end of the month.
Hamas and allied groups captured around 240 hostages when Islamist gunmen rampaged through southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7. Previously, Hamas had released just four.
Israel has subjected Hamas-ruled Gaza to a siege and relentless bombardment since the Oct. 7 attack, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, over 14,000 Gazans have been killed, around 40% of them children, according to medical officials in the territory.
“It’s not going to get all the hostages out, but it does get these first 50 or so, all women and children… We’ll start to see them come start to get released over the next 24 hours or so,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
The United States also hoped that hundreds of humanitarian aid trucks would reach Gaza in the next few days, Kirby said.
“Now, it’s important that all aspects are fully implemented,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a comment on the deal on X.
The Red Cross will be able to visit any remaining hostages in Gaza, Netanyahu said at Wednesday night’s press conference.
STAGGERED RELEASE OF HOSTAGES
The 50 hostages would be released over four days at a rate of at least 10 daily, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement on Tuesday night. The truce could be extended day by day as long as an additional 10 hostages were freed per day, it said.
Israel’s justice ministry published a list of 300 names of Palestinian prisoners who could be freed.
Hamas said the initial 50 hostages would be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children imprisoned in Israel. Hundreds of trucks of humanitarian, medical and fuel supplies would enter Gaza, while Israel would halt all air sorties over southern Gaza and maintain a daily six-hour daytime no-fly window in the north, the enclave’s ruling Islamists said.
Qatar’s chief negotiator in ceasefire talks, Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, told Reuters the truce meant there would be “no attack whatsoever. No military movements, no expansion, nothing”.
Arab foreign ministers, visiting Britain and France for talks on Wednesday, said the agreement should be extended.
“Whatever humanitarian access now increases as a result of this hostage deal must remain in place and must be built upon,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said in London alongside his Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts.
They are leading a so-called contact group of mostly Muslim countries that are lobbying Israel’s major allies and the U.N. Security Council to bring about an end to the Gaza war and move towards a permanent solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“That has to be a plan with an endgame, with timelines, with a mechanism for implementation, with guarantees, and the whole world has to be behind it and the U.S. will have to play a leading role,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.
Both Israel and Hamas said the pause in hostilities would not halt their broader missions.
“We are winning, and we will continue to fight until a complete victory,” Netanyahu said at Wednesday night’s press conference.
Hamas said in its statement: “As we announce the striking of a truce agreement, we affirm that our fingers remain on the trigger, and our victorious fighters will remain on the look-out to defend our people and defeat the occupation.”
(Reporting by Reuters journalists in Gaza, James Mackenzie, Dan Williams, Emily Rose and Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem, Andrew Mills in Doha, Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan in Cairo and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman)