Israel says hostage release won’t take place before Friday

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Plans to release the first hostages under the deal Israel reached with Hamas were delayed late Wednesday, just hours ahead of the expected beginning of a hard-negotiated pause in fighting.

“Talks to release our hostages are advancing and are ongoing. The start of the release process will take place according to the original agreement between both sides, and not before Friday,” the statement said.

On Thursday morning local time, Qatar said it would announce “in the next few hours” when the truce between Israel and Hamas will begin.

Talks about how to implement the hostage deal between Israel and Hamas are ongoing and progressing positively, the spokesperson of the Qatari Foreign Ministry Majed Al Ansari, said according to a Qatar Foreign Ministry statement published on X.

“The work between the two parties, and our partners in Egypt and the US, is ongoing to ensure the speedy implementation of the truce, and to provide what is necessary to ensure that both parties adhere to the agreement,” the statement added.

The comments over ongoing planning echo those from American officials.

A US National Security Council spokesperson stressed in a statement late Wednesday that the hostage deal “remains agreed,” adding that the parties were “working out final logistical details particularly for the first day of implementation.”

“It is our view that nothing should be left to chance as the hostages begin coming home,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said. “Our primary objective is to ensure that they are brought home safely. That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning.”

One Israeli official familiar with the matter downplayed its seriousness, putting it down to “fairly minor implementation details.”

Speaking at a Wednesday evening press conference held before the delay was announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed confidence the agreement would soon go into effect, even as he offered few details about its implementation.

Still, officials and analysts in Israel have long cautioned that any deal would be precarious up and until the hostages were safely across the border.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had continued ground and air operations in Gaza on Wednesday ahead of the expected start of the truce, carrying out strikes in the north-eastern and central parts of the Gaza Strip. Areas further south, including Khan Younis and Rafah, were also hit, according to Palestinian accounts.

Israeli forces continued to strike targets into Thursday, the IDF said, including in northwest Jabalya.

The IDF also said Thursday that Israeli soldiers had located a tunnel shaft inside a mosque and located and struck another tunnel shaft in an agricultural area in Beit Hanoun. It claimed IDF soldiers had located “numerous weapons” and identified a tunnel shaft inside a civilian residence in the area.

In a briefing Wednesday before the delay was announced, Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli army, had called the pending truce a “complicated process” that is “yet to be finalized.”

The process “could take time and last over a few stages,” he added.

The deal had marked a major diplomatic breakthrough nearly seven weeks after the start of a conflict that has spiraled into a grave humanitarian crisis in the enclave. The announcement was greeted with relief and heightened anticipation from the families of those taken hostage.

The deal, as laid out by key negotiator Qatar in a statement, would see hostages held captive by Hamas released in exchange for a number of Palestinian women and children in Israeli jails. The truce, meanwhile, would also allow the entry of “a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid,” the statement said.

There is an option for the pause to last as long as 10 days, but Israeli officials believe it is unlikely to last that long.

Netanyahu said when the deal was approved that for every additional 10 hostages released, there will be an additional one day pause in the fighting.

Hamas is holding 236 hostages captive in Gaza, including foreign nationals from 26 countries, according to figures from the Israeli military. The mass abductions at gunpoint took place during October 7, when Hamas militants struck across the border in a coordinated and bloody surprise attack killing around 1,200 people – the largest such attack on Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.

Prior to the deal, only a handful of hostages had been released.

Israel responded to the attack by declaring war against Hamas and imposing a siege on Gaza that cut off supplies of food, water, medicines and fuel, while launching a relentless air and ground assault. Some 12,700 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to data from the Palestinian health ministry in the West Bank, which draws on information from Hamas-run health authorities.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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