Four-day truce begins with tentative silence ahead of hostage exchange

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Dubai: A delicate four-day truce between Israel and Hamas has begun, marking the first break in the war that has devastated the coastal strip, and heralding the first major release of hostages 49 days after their capture in Israel.

The humanitarian ceasefire followed weeks of painstaking diplomatic negotiations mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, with the first group of Hamas-held hostages expected to be released to Israeli authorities from 4pm (1am Saturday AEDT).

At least 50 women and children held captive in the Gaza Strip are expected to be released over four days, in return for a pause in fighting and the release of 150 Palestinian women and minors imprisoned in Israeli jails.

Qatari officials said 39 Palestinians – three for every freed hostage – were expected to be released from jails on day one, but only after the first 13 hostages were returned to Israel.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, moments before the start of the temporary ceasefire.Credit: AP

About 240 hostages have been held captive in Gaza since they were abducted during Hamas’ bloody invasion of Israel on October 7. Some 1200 people were killed in Israel during the initial onslaught.

Fighting raged in the countdown to the truce, with Hezbollah continuing to fire retaliatory rockets from Lebanon at northern Israel, while officials inside the Hamas-ruled Gaza said a hospital and a United Nations school in the city were among the targets bombed.

Aerial sirens sounded in communities near the Gaza border in the first 15 minutes of the scheduled pause from 7am (Gaza time) but soon settled.

Palestinians who had taken refuge in temporary shelters return to their homes in eastern Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during the first hours of a four-day truce on Friday.Credit: AFP

At 8am the Israel Defence Forces released a statement confirming it had completed its operational preparations “according to the combat lines of the pause”.

The IDF also claimed it had destroyed a series of underground tunnels and tunnel shafts near Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa.

For the duration of the ceasefire, Israeli warplanes will not fly over southern Gaza, and will not fly over the northern part of the territory for six hours each day. Israel said the truce would be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.

While mediators in Qatar who helped broker the deal said they hoped the agreement would lead to a permanent truce, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Israel would resume its offensive to “achieve all our goals” once the truce ended.

Palestinians walk by a building destroyed in Israeli bombardment overnight in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Friday.Credit: AP

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari told reporters in Doha it was hoped the momentum from the deal would lead to an “end to this violence”.

However, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was quoted as telling troops their respite would be short, and the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months, the Associated Press reported.

The long-awaited pause comes seven weeks into Israel’s punishing aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip that has displaced more than half of its population of 2.3 million and killed more than 13,300, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Palestinians trapped in the heavily blockaded enclave have been overwhelmed by the humanitarian catastrophe, with no fresh supplies of water, food and medicine, while the health system has largely collapsed.

A convoy of aid trucks began streaming into Gaza as the agreement came into effect, including a daily delivery of 130,000 litres of urgently needed diesel and four trucks of petrol, Egypt said.

Hamas earlier said 200 trucks carrying relief supplies and four fuel trucks would enter the territory each day during the four-day pause.

Help for the war-ravaged strip was also bolstered by another £30 million ($57 million) in humanitarian aid from Britain. Newly minted Foreign Secretary David Cameron announced the donation on a visit to the occupied Palestinian territories on Friday after earlier meeting with Netanyahu.

Over the next four days, at least 50 hostages are expected to be released in stages to Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, in exchange for 150 imprisoned Palestinians.

The Israeli government this week published the names of 300 Palestinian women and child prisoners under consideration for release. The New York Times reported that people on the list had been arrested in connection with offences against national security, accused of offences including supporting terrorism, acts of violence and throwing stones. Most of the prisoners on the list have not been convicted of the charges.

Protesters gather in support of Palestine near Sydney Town Hall.Credit: Nick Moir

In Sydney on Friday, hundreds of school students rallied in support of Palestinians after their peers in Melbourne did the same on Thursday.

Gathering at Sydney’s Town Hall, the students who left class to attend the protest waved flags and called for an end to the conflict between Israel and Hamas with “Free Palestine” chants.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday backed the release of hostages held by Hamas, saying a ceasefire could not be “one-sided”.

with Reuters, AP

Terms of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire

  • All fighting in Gaza halts for four days.
  • Hamas will release 50 women and children held as hostages.
  • In exchange, Israel will release 150 Palestinian women and children from jail.
  • The truce deal will allow hundreds of trucks of humanitarian, medical and fuel aid to enter Gaza.
  • Israel to extend truce by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages released by Hamas.

More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

  • Hamas had bigger plans on October 7: Intelligence about Hamas’ motivations reveals an intention to strike a blow of historic proportions and provoke an overwhelming Israeli response.
  • Escape from chaos: An Australian father faced a heartbreaking dilemma – whether to flee Gaza to his children, or stay with his wife.
  • Open letters: Mass resignations, boardroom turmoil and angry donors are some of the ways the Israel-Hamas war is filtering down into Australia’s high-powered arts world.
  • Gaza’s youth: One of the cruellest ironies of war is that they are never started by children, yet it is children who suffer the most.

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