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13 Israeli hostages, 12 Thais freed by Hamas at start of 4-day truce

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Hamas said a group of 25 hostages—13 Israelis and 12 Thais—seized in the deadliest attack in Israel’s history were handed over on Friday as a temporary truce took hold in Gaza following weeks of fighting.

FIRST DAY OF TRUCE. International Red Cross vehicles reportedly carrying Israeli hostages released by Hamas cross the Rafah border point in the Gaza Strip on the way to Egypt, from which they would be flown to Israel to be reunited with their families on Friday. AFP

During the four-day truce, at least 50 hostages are expected to be freed, leaving an estimated 190 in the hands of Palestinian militants.

In exchange, 150 Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released, 10 of them immediately, officials said.

It was unclear if two Filipinos also held hostage by Hamas would be released along with the first batch, the Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier.

“Half an hour ago, the prisoners were handed to the Red Cross who will take them to the Egyptians” at the Rafah crossing, a source close to Hamas told AFP.

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Israeli security forces were already standing next to ambulances waiting outside the helipad of Tel Aviv’s Schneider medical center. AFP

A source in the military wing of Hamas confirmed the handover, adding: “This is the first group under the agreement.”

A first tranche of 13 women and child hostages were expected to go back to Israel on Friday under a deal that followed weeks of talks involving Israel, Palestinian militant groups, Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Israel is set to release three times as many Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails — women and teenage boys.

A dozen Thai hostages kidnapped during Hamas’s Oct. 7 raids into Israel were also released on Friday, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced.

Pictures released by the Israeli army showed bright pink and blue headphones sitting on the seats of a helicopter ready for the released hostages to use, along with toys and teddy bears waiting at a reception center where they were being taken to.

During a four-day truce, at least 50 hostages are expected to be freed, leaving an estimated 190 in the hands of Palestinian militants.

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

Hamas broke through Gaza’s militarized border with Israel on Oct. 7 to kill, according to Israeli officials, about 1,200 people and seize around 240 Israeli and foreign hostages.

It was unclear if two Filipinos also held hostage by Hamas would be released along with this first batch, the Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier.

The families of the 13 hostages – all but one of whom hailed from the same kibbutz (settlement) — were on their way to hospitals in Israel, where they were to be reunited later, the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza’s largest hospital Al-Shifa on Friday, the Hamas-run health ministry said, on the first day of the temporary truce.

The Israeli military raided Al-Shifa last week, targeting what it said was a Hamas command center in a tunnel complex beneath the medical facility. The Palestinian militant group and hospital officials have repeatedly denied the claim.

Al-Shifa has been a major focus of Israel’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip following attacks by Hamas across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Since the Israeli raid, many of the estimated 2,300 patients, staff and displaced civilians sheltering in the Al-Shifa complex have been evacuated to the south of the Gaza Strip.

In Manila, the DFA on Friday said 10 of the 26 Filipinos who are still in Gaza are set to cross the border to Egypt to escape the war between Israel and the Hamas militant group.

DFA Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega expressed optimism that the Filipinos will be able to exit Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with their Palestinian spouses.

Of the 111 Filipinos who have already left Gaza, 108 of them have been repatriated to the Philippines while three decided to reside in Cairo, Egypt. A baby born in Cairo 12 days ago became the 109th Filipino repatriated.

But the World Health Organization was “extremely concerned” about the safety of the estimated 100 patients and health workers remaining at Al-Shifa, spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

Hamas health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra, said the Israeli military had withdrawn but the people remaining at Al-Shifa were in a battered complex whose “main generator is destroyed along with numerous buildings”.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

“We’re working on further evacuations from hospitals as soon as possible,” said Lindmeier, with recent Israeli operations focusing on the Indonesian Hospital, another medical facility in northern Gaza.

Lindmeier said the latest evacuation convoy had left Al-Shifa with “73 severely ill or injured patients” including some in need of critical care.

On Thursday, Israeli forces arrested Al-Shifa director Mohammad Abu Salmiya, who has been frequently quoted by international media about conditions inside the complex.

Israeli soldiers escorted journalists to a tunnel shaft they said was part of an underground network used by Hamas.

Al-Shifa hospital has been the scene of an extended Israeli special forces operation as part of its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas-run government says nearly 15,000 people have been killed, most of them women and children.

On Friday, a four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war began, with hostages set to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

“We hope that this humanitarian pause leads to a longer term humanitarian ceasefire for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA. With Rey Requejo

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