The Biden administration says it is “watching with concern” the implementation of the complex hostage and truce deal struck by Israel and Hamas, which could be delayed as the parties work out final logistical details. The head of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, signaled late on Wednesday that the start of the hostage release would be delayed “not before Friday.” However, he said the releases were still on track. He did not provide a reason for the delay. The move is a hammer blow to families desperate to see their loved ones return home and to two million Gazans praying for some respite from 47 days of bombing and deprivation.
Earlier, Hanegbi told Israeli media that the decision to delay the first round of the releases was made in consultation with Qatar and Egypt and that the United States had been consulted and was supportive. He also urged families of those slated to be released not to panic if the list of names did not appear by Thursday evening.
The halt in military operations in Gaza and the freeing of hostages were initially envisaged to begin on Thursday morning, marking a diplomatic breakthrough for a conflict that has killed more than 11,000 people. The agreement would see at least 50 of the 240 Hamas militants captured in their October 7 attack on southern Israel be freed, with 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel — mostly teenagers arrested over the past year for rock-throwing incidents — being released in return.
An additional stipulation of the agreement was that for every ten additional hostages released, an extra day’s pause in fighting would be added to the initial four-day period. An Israeli government document, seen by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, showed the first group of hostages to be released would include five Israelis, four Palestinians, and three Americans, including three-year-old Abigail Mor Idan.
Israel had been expected to halt its drone strikes for six hours each day during the four-day pause. But a British foreign secretary who visited Kibbutz Be’eri in central Israel this afternoon told Sky News that it was unclear whether the drone pause would be implemented, saying: “We hope it will be. We need to work hard to get that. It’s important to do that.”
The looming pause in the war prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to visit the region. He told a press conference in Jerusalem that the “crucial deal” between Israel and Hamas needed to be delivered as promised, adding that both sides must “make sure that the ceasefire is fully respected.” The visit came after a meeting with Arab and Islamic counterparts in London. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was due to meet with his counterpart in Gaza, Mohammad Saleh Ershad, later on Thursday. The two were due to discuss security issues and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.