Israel-Hamas truce begins, hostages to be released

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A four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war began on Friday, with hostages set to be released in exchange for prisoners in the first major reprieve in seven weeks of war that have claimed thousands of lives.

The two sides had agreed to silence guns and stop bombings from 7:00 am (0500 GMT) in a conflict that erupted after Hamas’s murderous raids into Israel on October 7.

As part of the agreement, 13 women and children held hostage in Gaza are due to be freed at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT), followed by a number of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, according to Qatari mediators.

Over the four days, at least 50 hostages are expected to be released, leaving an estimated 190 in the hands of Palestinian militants.

In exchange, 150 Palestinians prisoners are expected to be released.

For Gaza’s two million-plus residents, the deal brings a promise of respite from weeks of sustained Israeli bombardment.

The territory’s Hamas government says the war has so far killed about 15,000 people and displaced countless more.

At dawn, thousands of people who had fled to areas near Gaza’s border with Egypt were preparing to return to their villages.

Minutes after the truce took effect, 16-year-old Omar Jibrin emerged from a hospital in the south of the territory where he and eight family members had sought refuge.

“I’m going home,” he told AFP as he began the journey.

However, Israeli warplanes over southern Gaza dropped leaflets warning people not to head back to the north.

“The war is not over yet,” the leaflets read. “Returning to the north is forbidden and very dangerous!!!”

Around 15 minutes after the truce began, sirens warning of incoming rockets sounded in several communities along Israel’s border with Gaza, the Israeli military said, without providing further details.