The Catholic overseas aid agency CAFOD has welcomed this afternoon’s news that an initial group of hostages have been released, but has warned that more needs to be done to help people trapped in Gaza.
A total of 39 Palestinian detainees were released from Israeli jails this evening in exchange for a group of hostages held by Hamas. The deal – mediated by Qatar – includes a four-day pause in the fighting.
The detainees are accused of a range of offences, from throwing stones to attempted murder.
Red Cross buses arrived at Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank ready to release the hostages. They were transferred to an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank and then allowed to return home, according to Israel’s prison service.
The detainees were chosen from a list of 300 women and minors compiled by Israel.
Less than a quarter of those on the list have been convicted – the vast majority are being held on remand while awaiting trial. Most of those listed are teenage boys – 40% of them under the age of 18. There is also one teenage girl and 32 women.
The news comes as a group of hostages in Gaza were released by Hamas into the custody of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who took them to Egypt at the Rafah border.
The Israeli military say they arrived in Israel this evening, after having been given an initial medical assessment at an airbase. They were then taken to hospital via helicopter to be reunited with their families.
The Thai prime minister says that 12 Thai nationals held hostage by Hamas in Gaza have already been released.
Israel and Hamas have reached a deal to exchange 50 of the hostages held in Gaza for a four-day pause in fighting.
The agreement should also see 150 Palestinians held in Israeli jails released and a significant increase in humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza.
Hamas took more than 200 hostages during a cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October in which 1,200 people were killed.
CAFOD’s Middle East Programmes Representative, Elizabeth Funnell, said: “We welcome the news that a deal has been agreed for a four-day ceasefire allowing for the release of hostages and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
“For Palestinians in Gaza in desperate need of life-saving food, water and medicine this will bring some respite. For the released hostages and their families, this is such an important moment, and will give hope to those hostages that remain.
“While a four-day pause in hostilities is a welcome first step, only a full ceasefire will enable sufficient humanitarian assistance to reach the more than 2.5 million people in desperate need. Only a permanent ceasefire will bring an end to the indiscriminate killing and injuring of civilians and the destruction of homes, schools and hospitals. Four days is simply not enough to allow for the release of all hostages.
“More than 12,000 people have been reported killed over the last six weeks of hostilities, many of them children, and the real number is likely to be much higher. More than 1.7 million people are displaced and living in overcrowded and dangerous conditions without access to basic essentials. It is estimated that over half of all housing units in Gaza have sustained damage. The scale of this crisis is huge – and will require much more than four days to alleviate the humanitarian suffering.
“We remain deeply concerned for our partner organisations’ staff and families who remain in Gaza City. Some have already lost their lives in this conflict.
“International humanitarian law must be upheld at all times – not for four days at a time.
“We reiterate our call for a full and permanent ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages.
“We urge the UK Government to show leadership in support of a political solution which will address the causes of the conflict, ensure accountability for violations of international law and enable a just and long-term peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
- CAFOD is the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and part of Caritas International. It works with communities across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East to fight poverty and injustice. The agency works with people in need regardless of race, gender, religion or nationality (cafod.org.uk).