Will Emily Hand, 9, above or Ofir Engel, 17, be among those released tomorrow?
Israeli families awoke to the news that a much-anticipated hostage release and temporary truce set to begin at 10 a.m. today would be delayed until at least Friday.
Was this a simple snag in the complex negotiations between Israel and Hamas or the first of many disappointments in the struggle to free 240 people abducted by Hamas into Gaza on Oct. 7?
Though the time frame was pushed back, most of the details released to the public appear to be the same as originally reported.
So this is how its going to work. Military action will halt from 7 a.m. on Friday then at 4 p.m. Hamas will release the first batch of hostages. Over four days Hamas is supposed to release 50 hostages — some of the captive children and their mothers.
In exchange, Israel will halt its military activity in Gaza (Hamas will also cease rocket launches) and release 150 Palestinian prisoners.
Unlike yesterday when Israel said it would not release the names of hostages, the families who will get their loved ones back have already been informed. So have the ones who will not.
Part of the deal includes the release of much needed humanitarian aid into Gaza over the four days.
“The truce will last for 4 days, starting on Friday morning, accompanied by a cessation of all military actions by the Al-Qassam Brigades, the Palestinian resistance, and the Zionist enemy throughout the truce period,” Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement. “Within 4 days, 50 Zionist prisoners, women and children under the age of 19, will be released; 200 trucks of relief and medical supplies will be brought daily to all areas of the Gaza Strip; four trucks of fuel and cooking gas will be brought daily to all areas of the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas said it wanted the time to recover bodies still under buildings destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.
The deal was brokered through Qatar and the United States. Egypt was also active in the negotiations.
Hamas is supposed to release 50 hostages — children and their mothers. There is a baby as young as 9 months (now 10 or 11) in custody. Children are defined as 18 years old and under. Hamas didn’t agree to soldiers being released and Israelis are drafted from 18 years old into the army.
Israel has said that the number of children and mothers present with children in captivity is around 70 to 80 total and so not all would be released in this round.
Also Hamas has claimed it doesn’t know where all the hostages are located. They were distributed in Gaza among other terror groups.
Of the 150 Palestinian prisoners to be released, many of them are also women and children in Israeli prisons. Only 50 of the 300 candidates for release are identified with Hamas, 17 are accused of attempted murder or terror attacks and 70 have Israeli ID cards meaning they live in Israel proper not Gaza or the West Bank.
One is a women who was charged with stabbing her Jewish neighbor in the back. She will be released to her home right across the street.
Hezbollah, which is not part of the truce, had agreed yesterday to be part of it. But this morning when the truce was pushed back, forces in southern Lebanon released 50 launches at Israel, the highest number since the war began 48 days ago.
EMOTIONS RUNNING HIGH
This is an extremely charged decision. Take for instance the range of emotions the family of 9-year-old Emily Hand has already been through. Tom Hand learned that his then 8-year-old daughter was missing after the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7. He was initially told she was dead.
“The public has now seen the pictures and videos and clips of what can happen to you there,” he said referring to Gaza. “Even on the way to there it is terror in itself for an eight-year-old child, even for an adult. So I can’t imagine what she’s going through. And it’s been a month, every day living in terror.”
“Death was sort of a relief,” he said.
But after a few weeks, the army officially ruled that since they found no body, no body parts and no blood, Emily was considered a hostage.
“It turns your mind upside down. First of all, you have to accept the news. You don’t believe the news. You have to alter your mind all over again and start dealing with that.”
Emily had her ninth birthday in the tunnels of Gaza on Nov. 17. She had been at a sleepover when Hamas breached Kibbutz Be’eri in its deadly spree.
At the same time, about 70 IDF soldiers have died while operating in Gaza and opponents of a truce fear their deaths will be in vain if they stop their advances now.
One cabinet minister, Itamar Ben Gvir said Israel has a moral duty to ensure the return of all the hostages.
“We don’t have the right to agree to separating them and have only some of them return,” he said. “And we definitely cannot accept an outline that sees the release of female and underage terrorists when we don’t get everyone back.”
Opponents also fear that Hamas will use a truce to rearm or even move the other hostages.
Hamas released four hostages (a mother and adult daughter and then later two other elderly women) without explanation. Also Israel rescued a female soldier in Gaza alive and recovered three bodies of captives in Gaza.
And there are two other hostages that had been there long before Oct. 7. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that all hostages, including Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, would be released.
“We will return everyone home. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone,” he said.