A Palestinian woman points to the sky in celebration and relief as prisoners are released.

Palestinians celebrate as released Palestinian prisoners arrive in Ramallah after being released from Ofer Prison on November 24, 2023.

(Photo: Ayman Nobani/picture alliance via Getty Images)

'Sign of Hope' as First Israeli Hostages and Palestinian Prisoners Freed

The exchange came on the first day of a Qatari-brokered four-day cease-fire that is slated to see at least 50 Israeli hostages exchanged for at least 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israel.

The first 24 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza were released Friday evening in exchange for 39 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

The exchange came on the first day of a Qatari-brokered four-day cease-fire that is slated to see at least 50 Israeli hostages exchanged for at least 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israel. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the pause would be extended a day for every additional 10 hostages released.

"It's a sign of hope for Palestinians and Israelis that the cease-fire will continue and the killing will stop," Mohammed Khatib, who watched the release of the first Palestinian prisoners Friday, told BBC News.

"I'm very happy of course, but I feel devastated by how that deal was reached… at the cost of our brothers' and sisters' lives in Gaza."

The pause in the fighting has also allowed much needed aid trucks to enter Gaza. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 200 aid trucks were sent from Israel Friday, of which 137 were unloaded by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, U.N. Newsreported. It's the largest convey of aid to enter Gaza since Israel's bombardment began October 7.

"Hundreds of thousands of people were assisted with food, water, medical supplies and other essential humanitarian items," OCHA said.

Four trucks full of gas and 129,000 liters of fuel also arrived in Gaza Friday.

However, Hamas has reportedly delayed the release of more hostages Saturday because it says Israel is not allowing aid to enter northern Gaza, Al Jazeera reported. The group said Israel had also violated the terms of the cease-fire by shooting tear gas and live ammunition at people who attempted to return to their homes in northern Gaza and by flying surveillance drones high over Gaza Saturday.

Hamas took around 240 hostages—both Israelis and foreign nationals—into Gaza during its October 7 attack on Israel that also killed around 1,200 people. On Friday, the group released 13 Israelis, including an 85-year-old woman and children as young as 2, as well as 10 Thai nationals and one person from the Philippines, The Guardian reported.

"Each of them is an entire world," Netanyahu said in response to the first release. "But I emphasize… 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 families of the Thai hostages celebrated their return.

"We are all very happy. Everybody is crying," Rungarun Wichangern, the brother of 33-year-old Vetoon Phoome who was released Friday, toldThe Guardian.

Phoome, who was working on a potato and pomegranate farm near Gaza when he was captured, was one of 30,000 Thai nationals working in the agricultural sector in Israel before the war, and one of around 5,000 employed at farms near Gaza. The Thai government said that 20 more Thai nationals were still being held in Gaza.

The one Philippines hostage released was 33-year-old Gelienor "Jimmy" Pacheco, who had been working as a carer in Gaza. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said on social media that he was "overjoyed" by Pacheco's release, and that he was safely at the Thai embassy in Israel.

"I salute the work of the Philippine Foreign Service in securing his release, and once again thank the State of Qatar for their invaluable assistance in making Jimmy's release possible," Marcos said.

Another Philippine woman, Noralyn Babadilla, remains missing.

Meanwhile, jubilant crowds turned out in the West Bank to welcome the first Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli custody, according to BBC News. The group included 24 women and 15 teenage boys. They had been arrested for offenses ranging from stone throwing to attempted murder. While some had been convicted, others were awaiting trial. Of a total of 300 Palestinian women and children marked by Israel for potential release, less than 25% have been convicted.

Israel holds around 8,000 Palestinians in its prisons, 3,000 of whom were detained since the October 7 attacks, Al Jazeera reported. Nearly every family in the West Bank has had a relative detained at one point, according to BBC News.

The NGO Palestinian Prisoners' Club said that Israel had told the families of released prisoners that they could be fined around 70,000 shekels ($18,740) for sharing sweets to celebrate their loved ones' return, speaking to reporters, or having guests over.

One of the Palestinian prisoners released was 24-year-old Marah Bakeer, who was 16 when she was arrested for allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli soldier, something she and her family deny. Israeli forces shot her in the arm and hand 12 times before her arrest.

"I'm very happy of course, but I feel devastated by how that deal was reached… at the cost of our brothers' and sisters' lives in Gaza," Bakeer said.

The Israeli attack on Gaza has killed more than 14,800 people, around 10,000 of them women and children. This means Israel has killed women and children at a rate that outstrips the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century, The New York Times reported Saturday. More than double the number of women and children have been killed in Gaza in nearly two months of fighting than have been reported killed in Ukraine in two years. Using women and children as a conservative stand-in for overall civilian deaths would mean more civilians have died during these two months than were killed by U.S. forces in the first year of the Iraq War, and nearly as many as the 12,400 estimated killed by the U.S. and its allies during nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan.

"It's beyond anything that I've seen in my career," Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon senior intelligence analyst who now advises the Dutch organization PAX, told the Times, adding that, for a comparison, one may "have to go back to Vietnam, or the Second World War."

The bombardment has also destroyed or damaged more than 60,000 buildings, and some Gazans used the pause in the fighting to return to their homes and survey the damage.

"Our home is destroyed, nothing remains standing. And most of the ducks and chickens were eaten by hungry street dogs," one older woman told Al Jazeera. "This is not a war; it is a genocide."

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