Israel, Hamas agree four-day truce, 50 hostages to go free
The first truce in a brutal 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 Gaza's civilians.
GAZA: Israel and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to a ceasefire in Gaza for at least four days, to let in aid and release at least 50 hostages captured by militants in exchange for at least 150 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
The first truce in a brutal 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 Gaza's civilians and bring more Israeli hostages home. Israel said the ceasefire could be extended further, as long as more hostages were freed.
Talk of an imminent hostage deal has swirled for days. Hamas took about 240 hostages, including children and elderly people, during its rampage into Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israel's tally.
In Israel's subsequent aerial blitz and invasion of Gaza, the enclave's Hamas-run government says at least 13,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed including at least 5,600 children.
A U.S. official briefed on the discussions facilitated by Qatar said the deal would include 50 hostages, mostly women and children, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and a pause in the fighting of four or five days.
Relatives of the Israeli hostages and supporters had marched by the thousands along the highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to pressure the government to secure the captives' release.
On Tuesday, dozens of Israelis gathered outside the Defence Ministry campus in Tel Aviv earlier on Tuesday, beating drums, carrying signs that said "Deal Now!" and chanting, "Time is running out, bring all of them back!"
Kamelia Hoter Ishay, the grandmother of 13-year-old Gali Tarshansky, who is believed to be held in Gaza, said she was trying not to follow all the deal reports because she was afraid of being disappointed.
"The only thing I am waiting for is the phone call from my daughter, Reuma, who will say, 'Gali is coming back.' And then I'll know that it's really over and I can breathe a sigh of relief and say that's it, it's over," she said.
Tarshansky was kidnapped from her home in Kibbutz Beeri, one of the communities worst hit by Hamas.
Zvika Itzhaki, a relative of Israeli hostage Omer Wenkert, 22, said although the family was happy for the release of women and children, he hoped for the release also of those who are chronically sick.
"He has colitis, a severe intestinal disease. He has to take his daily pill. We don't know what medical state he's in," Itzhaki said.
Qadura Fares, head of the Commission for Prisoners' Affairs in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that he had not seen the list of Palestinian prisoners included in the pending deal.
He said among more than 7,800 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel are some 85 women and 350 minors. Most were detained without charges or for incidents such as hurling rocks at Israeli soldiers, not for launching militant attacks, he said.
"Talk of an exchange deal is what has brought attention to the issue of the arbitrary detention of Palestinian children who are being tried in military courts," he said.
"The world must know that Israel detains children and systematically targets them, and that their release from prison will surely be a comfort for their families."
An Israel Prison Service spokesperson said they were not aware of a deal to release Palestinian prisoners. They said they did not have information on how many Palestinian women and children were in its custody and details on the kinds of offences they were sentenced for.
Hamas has to date released only four captives: U.S. citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20, citing "humanitarian reasons," and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct. 23.