Tel Aviv [Israel]: The truce brokered by Qatar between Israel and Hamas went into effect at 7 am (local time).
In the lead-up to the temporary ceasefire, there were rocket sirens in Israeli towns near Gaza, and the IDF conducted intense shelling in Gaza to advance its mission against Hamas, The Times of Israel reported.
At 4 pm, 13 hostages in Gaza are set to be freed, followed by an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
Over the next four days, around 50 women and children will be released, leaving an estimated 190 in the hands of Palestinian groups. Additionally, 150 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women and minors, are expected to be released, as reported by The Times of Israel.
The deal offers incentives for more hostage releases, with Israel agreeing to an extra day of truce for every ten additional hostages released by Hamas.
The truce allows for an influx of fuel and humanitarian supplies to Gaza, marking the first cessation of fighting since the conflict began seven weeks ago when Hamas massacred roughly 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
Qatar's foreign ministry spokesperson announced on Thursday afternoon (local time) that the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas would take effect on Friday at 7 am.
The Prime Minister's Office confirmed the receipt of an "initial" list of names of abductees expected to be released, updating families of those set to return and providing information to relatives of those not included in the list.
Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari stated that Doha had received the list of names of civilians the terror group would release on the first day of the deal. Originally expected to commence on Thursday morning, the truce was delayed late on Wednesday night, with Israel's National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi stating that the release of hostages would not begin before Friday. Despite planning to halt combat operations on Thursday, Israel indicated it would continue as usual until the deal came into effect, The Times of Israel reported.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the new demands put forward by Hamas included a stipulation that the hostages released from Gaza be transferred directly to Egypt rather than to the Red Cross, as previously stated. A reason was not provided.
Following news of the delay, spokesman al-Ansari said that Qatar was continuing to work, along with the US, to "ensure the rapid start of the truce and to provide what is necessary to ensure the parties' commitment to the agreement."
Even though Israel has given no public reason as to why the deal was delayed, several unconfirmed reports have emerged.
Speaking to CNN, one Israeli official dismissed the delay as the result of "fairly minor implementation deals." The claims were echoed by the United States, and Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, told the Wall Street Journal that the relevant parties were merely ironing out the "final logistical details," adding that the US's primary objective was to ensure that the hostages were brought home safely, as reported by The Times of Israel.
Meanwhile, Egyptian officials told the Wall Street Journal that Hamas' failure to provide a full list of hostage names to be released, as well as its failure to sign off on the deal, were the reason behind the delay.
Speaking to UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron during his wartime visit to Israel on Thursday afternoon, Benjamin Netanyahu was confident that the deal would go through.
"We hope to get our hostages out -- it's not without its challenges, but we hope to get this first tranche out and then we're committed to getting everyone out," The Times of Israel quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Israel expresses optimism that the number of hostages released by Hamas during the ceasefire may exceed the initially agreed-upon 50. Hamas plans to use the pause to locate additional women and children held by various cells. Both parties have agreed that for each additional 10 hostages freed, an extra day of calm will be observed. Israeli authorities estimate that Hamas could potentially identify around 30 more Israeli mothers and children.
As per the current understanding of the deal, each group of hostages released by Hamas daily will be transferred to Israel through one of Gaza's border crossings. Upon verifying that the released hostages are the Israeli citizens agreed upon, Israel will release its predetermined group of Palestinian prisoners.
Upon arrival on the Israeli side, the freed hostages will undergo a brief medical examination before being flown to hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families, according to The Times of Israel.
Israel has committed to refraining from initiating military action during the ceasefire. However, if Hamas breaches the truce and attacks soldiers stationed in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops will be authorized to retaliate.
Israel also aims to utilise the pause in fighting to strategize for the subsequent steps in the ongoing conflict.
Israel's war cabinet has vowed to continue its war effort, with the declared aims of destroying Hamas and securing the return of all hostages, after the pause in fighting lapses.
During a Wednesday evening press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas' Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar could "try all kinds of tricks" and said that the government was prepared for that eventuality.
He stressed that the ceasefire agreed upon with Hamas did not apply to Hamas chiefs abroad, saying that there was "no such obligation." And he said he had "instructed the Mossad to act against the heads of Hamas wherever they are."
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant echoed Netanyahu's warning.
"You can convey to (Hamas leaders) that they are living on borrowed time," he told a reporter. "As far as I'm concerned, the fight against Hamas spans the entire globe, from the terrorists who travel with a Kalashnikov in fatigues and battle [our] soldiers in the field to those who travel in luxury planes and enjoy themselves while the actions of their emissaries are perpetrated against women and children. They all face death," The Times of Israel quoted Gallant as saying.