The first group of hostages taken captive by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel were released from Gaza hours after the four-day cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas took effect Friday morning, officials said. More than three dozen Palestinians jailed in Israel were also released as part of the deal.
Thirteen Israeli hostages were handed over by Hamas on Friday, the head of Israel’s government press office confirmed to CBS News just after 5 p.m. local time. CBS News correspondent Lilia Luciano reported that Red Cross trucks appearing to carry freed Israeli hostages crossed the Gaza border into Egypt around 6 p.m. local time.
Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesman Dr. Majed Al-Ansari said on social media that in total, 24 hostages had been released. That includes the 13 Israeli hostages, 10 Thai hostages and one Filipino hostage.
The Israeli Defense Forces said on social media just before 7 p.m. local time that the released hostages were on Israeli soil and had undergone initial medical assessments. IDF members accompanied the released hostages to hospitals where they will be reunited with their families. The IDF also shared a video of a bus carrying the freed hostages entering Israel.
“We just completed the return of the first of our hostages: children, their mothers and additional women,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. “Each of them is an entire world. But I emphasize to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel: we are committed to returning all the hostages. This is one of the aims of the war and we are committed to achieving all the aims of the war.”
The released Israelis ranged in age from 2 to 85 and included several mothers and four children, the Israeli government said.
Netanyahu’s office said in a Friday evening statement that Israeli intelligence had received a list of a second group of hostages due to be released Saturday “in continuation” of the cease-fire agreement. Those hostages’ families have been notified, the prime minister’s office said.
The 10 Thai nationals were released around 4 p.m. local time. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on social media that Thai embassy officials were going to pick up the released hostages. The chairman of Egypt’s State Information Service, Diaa Rashwan, said the release of the Thai nationals came after “intensive Egyptian efforts.”
Al-Ansari said the freeing of these hostages happened “as part of ongoing mediation, outside the framework of the agreement of the Humanitarian Pause” brokered by Qatar, Egypt, the U.S., Israel and Hamas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that it had “began carrying out a multi-day operation to facilitate the release and transfer of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian detainees to the West Bank.”
Al-Ansari also said that 39 Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli jails were released Friday, “upholding the commitment of the first day of the agreement.”
Thousands gathered Friday in the occupied West Bank village of Beitunia to greet the freed Palestinian prisoners, 24 women and 15 teen boys.
Israel Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry went to Israel’s Damon prison to meet with its guards ahead of their release.
“This is our mission, for the sake of returning the kidnapped people home, and we will do it to the best of our abilities,” Perry said in a statement.
The Red Cross oversaw the transfer of the prisoners, first to the West Bank’s Ofer Prison, and then to Beitunia.
Israeli forces gathered outside Ofer Prison ahead of the exchange, where some Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers. Cameras showed one Palestinian who was shot in the leg before being rushed into an ambulance. The Associated Press reported that journalists from their agency saw Palestinians waiting to greet the released prisoners had tear gas fired at them by the IDF.
The releases are part of a deal that calls for Hamas to free at least 50 hostages and Israel to release 150 Palestinians from its prisons. Israel’s military sounded alarms in several villages near Gaza just minutes after the short-term truce began Friday morning, warning of possible incoming rocket fire, but there was no immediate word of ongoing violence between Israeli forces and Hamas, leaving hope that the first hostage releases under the deal would still go forward later Friday.
The cease-fire got underway at 7 a.m. local time, which is midnight on the U.S. East Coast. The Israeli military did not make any official announcement at that time but said in a statement less than two hours later that it had “completed its operational preparations according to the combat lines of the pause.”
A spokesperson stressed in a social media post just minutes after 7 a.m. local time that the suspension of hostilities was temporary, and “the war is not over yet.”
President Biden said Friday that he expected more hostages will be released Saturday, “and more the day after, and more the day after that.”
“It’s only a start, but so far it’s gone well,” Mr. Biden said of Friday’s hostage release, adding that “in the next hour or so we’ll know what the second wave of releases are.”
The U.S. does not know when the Americans held hostage would be released or all of their conditions, Mr. Biden said.
“We don’t know what the list of all the hostages are and when they’ll be released, but we know the numbers that are going to be released,” he said. “It is my hope and expectation it will be soon.”
Mr. Biden said he thought “the chances are real” for the temporary pause in the fighting to be extended and that he remains in contact with the leaders of Qatar, Egypt and Israel “to make sure this stays on track and every aspect of the deal is implemented.”
When asked if he trusts Hamas to uphold its end of the deal, Mr. Biden said, “I don’t trust Hamas to do anything right. I only trust Hamas to respond to pressure.”
Mr. Biden also acknowledged the trauma that the hostages have been though.
“All these hostages have been through a terrible ordeal, and this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for them,” he said. “The teddy bears waiting to greet those children at the hospital are a stark reminder of the trauma these children have been through, and at such a very young age.”
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee warned that the northern Gaza Strip remained “a dangerous war zone and it is forbidden to move around” there, adding that people in the decimated Palestinian territory “must remain in the humanitarian zone in the south of the Strip” and only move toward that area on one designated road, adding that “the movement of residents from the south of the Strip to the north will not be allowed in any way.”