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First Captives Freed in Tense Gaza Truce Between Israel and Hamas

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Hamas freed two dozen hostages held in Gaza and Israel released nearly 40 imprisoned Palestinians on Friday, completing the first exchange in a tense, temporary truce that halted the fighting after seven weeks of war.

The cease-fire, reached after weeks of painstaking negotiation with the help of Egypt, Qatar and the United States, had held for a few hours before word emerged that anyone had been released. Then came a flurry of announcements from Egypt, Qatar and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which helped receive hostages after their weeks in captivity in Gaza.

The hostages released included 13 Israelis, several children among them, as well as 10 Thais and one Filipino — reflecting the large number of foreign farm laborers in Israel, and the far-reaching effects of the Hamas attacks on Israel last month.

Not long after those hostages were declared free, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said that 39 Palestinian women and minors imprisoned by the Israeli authorities had been released. All the hostages freed by Hamas were expected to be swiftly moved to Israel to receive urgent medical care.

Israel has said that it would extend the cease-fire by a day for every 10 additional hostages that Hamas releases. Hamas has not commented directly on the offer but its top political official, Ismail Haniyeh, said his group was committed to making the truce work.

An extended pause in the fighting would give Gaza’s civilians the first sustained relief after nearly 50 days of relentless bombardment, which has shattered homes, debilitated hospitals and left more than two million people in desperate conditions.

But it would also allow both Israel and Hamas to try to better their positions for battles to come. Hamas, which has been battered by Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion, could try to regroup its forces and fortify the places it holds. Israel may be able to glean new intelligence during the pause, and so make plans for its next phase of the war. Israeli leaders have vowed to eradicate Hamas, and the group has said “our hands will remain on the trigger.”

The exchange of captives, and the arrival of the biggest aid convoy Gaza has received in weeks, was cautiously welcomed by President Biden and set off waves of emotion in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Tension broke into relief for some families and anguish for those whose loved ones were not among those released.

Hundreds of people gathered late Friday outside the Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank, waiting for the first group of Palestinians to be released, and Israeli forces fired tear gas several times to keep people back from the gates.

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