Israel and Hamas agree to release prisoners, hostages and pause fighting

Families and friends of about 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza call for Israeli to bring them home during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 21, 2023.

Some hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip following the militant group’s attack last month on Israel could be released as early as Thursday, after an agreement announced by Qatar that includes Israeli forces pausing their attacks on Gaza for four days.

Qatar said Hamas would release 50 women and children, while Israel would also release “a number of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons.”

The agreement announced early Wednesday came after weeks of negotiations led by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

The U.S. official said the hostages released by Hamas were expected to include several Americans.

“I thank Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt for their critical leadership and partnership in reaching this deal,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “And I appreciate the commitment that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have made in supporting an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out and to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza.”

Hamas has been holding about 240 people hostage since its October 7 attack in Israel, during which militants killed at least 1,200 people. Gaza health officials say more than 12,000 Palestinians, including at least 5,000 children, have been confirmed killed in Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The start of Israel’s pause in fighting was due to be announced by early Thursday, and could be extended beyond the initial four-day period, Qatar said.

An Israeli government statement said an extra day would be added to the pause for every additional 10 hostages Hamas releases.

The U.S. senior administration official said more than 50 women and children are among the hostages, and that ultimately the goal is to get all the hostages out of Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring back all of the hostages, while reiterating to Cabinet members that Israel’s goal is to eliminate Hamas and ensure the militant group can no longer threaten Israel.

The Israeli pause in fighting will allow for more humanitarian convoys to bring aid into Gaza, including fuel for humanitarian efforts, Qatar said.

Levels of aid reaching Gaza have been severely limited compared to what was reaching the enclave before the conflict began.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 79 trucks reached the Palestinian enclave on Tuesday, bringing the total during the past month to 1,399 truckloads of aid. The agency said an average of 10,000 truckloads of commercial and humanitarian commodities were reaching Gaza each month prior to the conflict.

The United Nations says more than 1.7 million people are displaced within Gaza, including 930,000 people staying at over-capacity U.N.-run shelters.