American girl, 3, believed to be among Hamas hostages to be freed
A three-year old American girl is believed to be among 13 hostages to be released by Hamas as a ceasefire begins in Gaza on Friday afternoon (AEDT).
While the names of those to be freed have not been made public, Israel has informed relatives of the 13 hostages who will be released in the hours after the ceasefire begins at 7am local time (4pm AEDT).
“In the last few hours, the officers in charge of contact with the families delivered the messages with sensitivity and humility,” Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
In all, some 50 Israeli hostages are set to be released over the next four days.
In exchange, Israel has agreed to release 150 Palestinians held in Israeli jails and a significant increase in humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza.
Abigail Edan, who turns four on Friday, is among the hostages expected to be freed. Photo: AAP
Abigail is a dual Israeli-American citizen whose parents died in Hamas’s October 7 attacks that sparked the war.
Abigail’s great-aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali told US TV her family wasn’t yet sure if she would be freed on Friday, which is the little girl’s fourth birthday.
“We haven’t had any confirmation. We haven’t seen any lists. We are going with the belief that because she’s three years old, and no child should be a hostage, no child should be in this situation, that she will be early in the releasing,” she said.
Ahead of Friday’s release, Hagari said it was a “difficult and tense evening for all of us, especially for the families whose relatives were kidnapped”.
“These will be complicated days, nothing is final until it actually happens,” he said.
He said that Israel’s military “continues to fight in the Gaza Strip”. During the four-day truce, forces will be stationed at the ceasefire line “inside the Gaza Strip”.
“Control over northern Gaza is the first step of a long war. We are preparing for the next stage,” Hagari said.
World powers have cautiously welcomed news of the impending ceasefire, which will cover north and south Gaza. Palestinians who have endured weeks of bombardment have also been optimistic.
“We hope for a truce, we are tired. The people of Gaza are tired,” one woman who had fled south from Gaza City, the focus of Israel’s massive air and ground campaign, told CNN.
“We will no longer hear the sound of aircraft and of bombardment. We will be able to sit in safety,” adding she hoped the pause in the fighting would hold.
Israeli spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said from the Qatari capital Doha that additional aid would first start flowing into Gaza. The first hostages would be released hours later, with the total number rising to 50 over the four days.
Palestinians were expected to be released from Israeli jail in exchange, he said. They will start with 39 on day one, rising to 150 in coming days.
“We all hope that this truce will lead to a chance to start a wider work to achieve a permanent truce,” Al-Ansari said.
Egypt said 130,000 litres of diesel and four trucks of gas will be delivered daily to Gaza when the truce started, and 200 trucks of aid would enter Gaza daily.
Israel launched its devastating invasion of Gaza after gunmen from Hamas burst across the border fence on October 7, killing 1200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, an estimated 13,000 Gazans have been killed by Israeli bombardment, around 40 per cent of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities. However they have said it has become increasingly difficult to keep an up-to-date tally as the health service has buckled under the Israeli bombardment.
Ahead of the ceasefire, fighting continued at even greater than normal intensity, with Israeli jets hitting more than 300 targets and troops engaged in heavy fighting around Jabalia refugee camp north of Gaza City.
International alarm has focused on the fate of hospitals, especially in Gaza’s northern half, where all medical facilities have ceased functioning with patients, staff and displaced people trapped inside.
Hamas said 30 people had been killed in an Israeli strike on a school affiliated with the UNRWA in Jabalia. There was no immediate comment from UNRWA.
Earlier, from across the border fence in Israel, clouds of smoke could be seen billowing above northern Gaza’s war zone accompanied by the sounds of heavy gunfire and booming explosions.
Israel says Hamas fighters use residential and other civilian buildings, including hospitals, as cover. Hamas denies this.
The delay to the start of the truce meant another day of worry for Israeli relatives who say they still know nothing about the fate of hostages, and of fear for Palestinian families trapped inside the Gaza combat zone.
Palestinian media reported at least 15 people killed in air strikes on Khan Younis, Gaza’s main southern city. Reuters could not independently verify the toll there.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Doctors Without Borders said the city’s Nasser hospital, where it treats burn patients and supports the emergency room, was overflowing with patients and families sheltering in the building.
Israel said on Thursday it had detained the head of Gaza’s biggest hospital Al Shifa for questioning over his role in what it said was the hospital’s use as a Hamas command centre.
Hamas condemned the arrest of Shifa director Muhammad Abu Salamiya and other doctors it said were trying to evacuate remaining patients and wounded from the facility.