JERUSALEM — Families shattered by war in Israel and Gaza woke up Wednesday to a hopeful but distressing void after the early approval of a deal between Israel and Hamas. The deal allows for the exchange of at least 50 Israeli hostages for 150 Palestinian prisoners during a four-day pause in combat operations in Gaza. The timing of the ceasefire was to be announced on Wednesday.
But with the deal potentially facing review by Israel’s Supreme Court, the fighting and waiting continued for 47 days. Bombs continued to fall on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Hostage families endured the agonizing reality that the long-awaited day of their release may or may not include their loved ones.
The fate of more than 100 Israeli hostages consumes and unifies a terrorized nation
“I’m excited and I hope it’s my family; on the other hand, there are other hostages,” said Romina Shvalb, whose sister, brother-in-law and their two daughters are believed to be among 240 people held somewhere in the ruins of Gaza since their abduction in October . 7. “The other day I had to stop the car because I was having an anxiety attack. »
The hostages will not be released as a single group, according to Israeli and U.S. officials, but they will likely be transferred in small numbers to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, welcomed the agreement, calling it an important step in the right direction, although much remains to be done. “The United Nations will mobilize all its capabilities to support the implementation of the agreement and maximize its positive impact on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. »
Each hostage will be exchanged for three Palestinians – women or children – held in Israeli prisons. Israel agreed to possibly extend the bombing pause by one day for every 10 additional hostages released beyond the initial group of 50.
Israel would allow more fuel and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza during the pause, U.S. officials said. An Israeli military official said the military situation would not allow any of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Gazans to return to the north.
U.S. officials said they hoped the agreement – which comes after Israel refused to slow its military attack for weeks despite pleas from allies, hostage families and humanitarian agencies in Gaza – would change the dynamics of the war and would perhaps lead to a broader ceasefire.
Israel and Hamas reach agreement on hostage release
But even as Israelis celebrated the long-awaited release of at least some hostages, military and political leaders insisted the pause did not mean peace.
“We are at war and we will continue the war until we have achieved all of our goals: destroying Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that no one in Gaza can threaten Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a recorded statement issued during the council of ministers. debate on the agreement.
The final legal steps in implementing the agreement began on Wednesday with the publication of a list of around 300 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons. The law allows Israeli citizens who are victims of militant attacks to challenge the release of prisoners in the Supreme Court. These petitions, if any, should be filed within 24 hours of the list being published.
The High Court has never blocked a prisoner release deal and should allow the deal with Hamas to proceed, according to Suzie Navot, a constitutional lawyer at the Israel Democracy Institute.
The number of Palestinian detainees held by Israel has increased in the weeks since the start of the conflict, with most of them swept away by Israeli raids in the West Bank. Among those potentially eligible for release under the exchange are around 200 teenagers and 75 women, according to a Palestinian human rights group.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoners’ Affairs Commission, told Reuters on Wednesday that he expected Palestinian prisoners to be released on Thursday. Thirty-three women appeared on the list published by Israeli authorities. “We must take into consideration the fact that when the war began, the number of female prisoners was 38, which means that almost all Palestinian women imprisoned in Israel at the start of the war will be released,” he said. declared.
“The release of a number of our prisoners during the war is a very important thing,” he said. “This agreement may mark the beginning of a change in the general atmosphere of this war. »
In Gaza, there were no signs of abating violence on Wednesday as intense shelling rocked areas of northern Gaza and killed dozens of people, witnesses said. A resident of the Jabalya refugee camp, who asked not to be identified, told the Washington Post that the dead and injured were being rushed to Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, one of the last remaining facilities accessible health care in the north.
Munir al-Bursh, director general of hospitals in the Gaza Strip, said in a voice message from inside the besieged Indonesian hospital that staff were trying to evacuate patients through smoke and tear gas.
Balousha reported from Amman. Claire Parker and Louisa Loveluck in Jerusalem and Naomi Schanen in London contributed to this report.
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