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    Gaza cease-fire will begin at Friday morning, with aid to follow ‘as soon as possible,’ Qatar says


    DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — A four-day cease-fire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas will began Friday morning, Qatar said, a day later than originally announced, as negotiators worked out final details of the deal, which is to lead to the release of dozens of hostages held by militants and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

    The diplomatic breakthrough promised some relief for the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of Israeli bombardment, as well as families in Israel fearful for the fate of their loved ones taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.

    The deal appeared to hit a last-minute snag when Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, announced a one-day delay late Wednesday, without providing a reason. The cease-fire was originally set to begin Thursday morning.

    On Thursday, Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which played a key role in mediating with Hamas, announced the cease-fire will start at 7 a.m. local time Friday (5 a.m. GMT.)

    He said the two sides had exchanged lists of those to be released, and the first group of hostages held by Hamas – including 13 women and children – would be freed Friday afternoon. Increased aid for Palestinians will start to enter “as soon as possible,” al-Ansari said.

    RISING TOLL IN GAZA

    The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, meanwhile, resumed its detailed count of Palestinian casualties from the war, saying over 13,300 have been killed. The new numbers were not fully broken down, but in past tallies, women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead.

    The figures do not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where services and communication largely broke down earlier this month. The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing and are feared to be buried under rubble.

    The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.

    The ministry stopped publishing casualty counts as of Nov. 11, saying it had lost the ability to do so because of the collapse of the health sector in the north.

    NETANYAHU SAYS TRUCE WON’T END WAR

    The truce agreement had raised hopes of eventually winding down the war, which has leveled vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank, and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.

    Air raid sirens sounded across northern Israel on Thursday as Hezbollah said it fired 48 Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon. The barrage came after an Israeli strike killed five Hezbollah fighters, including the son of the head of the group’s parliamentary bloc.

    The Israeli military said it was striking the sources of the launches. Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a monthlong war in 2006, have repeatedly traded fire across the border since the war in Gaza broke out.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the war after the truce expires, with the goal of destroying Hamas’ military capabilities, ending its 16-year rule in Gaza and returning all of the estimated 240 captives held in Gaza by Hamas and other groups.

    “We will continue it until we achieve all our goals,” Netanyahu said, adding that he had delivered the same message in a phone call to U.S. President Joe Biden. Washington has provided extensive military and diplomatic support to Israel since the start of the war.

    The delay in implementing the cease-fire dismayed uprooted Palestinians in Gaza, who hope to use the few days of quiet to visit homes they fled – or at least the wreckage of them — and to reconnect with families after the massive dispersal caused by the Israeli assault.

    “We’d been waiting and hoping since yesterday,” said Aya Hamad, who is sheltering at a hospital in the central city of Deir al Balah. “We wanted to go home to get a change of clothes for our children, even though we know our homes have been bombed and are gone. … But no, it’s all for nothing.”

    Many talked of trying to make short visits to homes in Gaza City in the north of the territory, though it was unlikely Israeli troops controlling the area would have allowed it.

    Israeli troops hold much of northern Gaza and say they have dismantled tunnels and much of Hamas’ infrastructure there. Israeli forces on Wednesday revealed what they said was a major Hamas hideout in a tunnel beneath Shifa Hospital.

    The territory’s largest medical center has been at the heart of a fierce battle of narratives over both sides’ allegedly reckless endangerment of civilians. Hamas and hospital staff deny Israeli allegations that Shifa was used as a militant command center.

    The military said Thursday it detained Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa, for questioning over his involvement in what it said were “extensive” Hamas activities in the hospital. Gaza’s Health Ministry called on international bodies to intervene and said it would no longer cooperate with the World Health Organization in evacuating hospitals.

    Earlier Thursday, Israel ordered the full evacuation of the Indonesian Hospital in the north, Dr. Munir al-Boursh, a Health Ministry official inside the facility, told Al-Jazeera.

    Fighting has raged outside the hospital for days, and hundreds of people have already been evacuated to the south. It was unclear if the arrest of Abu Selmia would affect those efforts.

    Israel has threatened to launch wider operations in southern Gaza, where most of the territory’s population is now located. More than 1 million people, including hundreds of thousands who fled the north, have crammed into overflowing U.N.-run shelters with dwindling food, water and basic supplies.

    For Hamas, the cease-fire would provide an opportunity to regroup after weeks of apparently heavy losses. Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, who is believed to be alive and in hiding in Gaza, is likely to claim the release of Palestinian prisoners as a major achievement and declare victory if the war ends.

    HOSTAGES TO BE FREED IN STAGES

    Under the truce deal, 50 hostages are supposed to be freed in stages, in exchange for the release of what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners. Women and children would be released first, and Israel said the truce would be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.

    The return of hostages could lift spirits in Israel, where their plight has gripped the country. Families of the hostages have staged mass demonstrations to pressure the government to bring them home.

    Qatar said the cease-fire would allow a “larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid” to enter Gaza, including fuel, but it gave no details on quantities.

    Israel cut off all imports at the start of the war, except for a trickle of food, water and medical supplies allowed in from Egypt. The lack of fuel has caused a territory-wide blackout, leaving homes and hospitals reliant on generators, which have also steadily been forced to shut down.

    Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 prisoners eligible to be released, mainly teenagers detained over the past year for rock-throwing and other minor offenses.

    The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers, for whom Hamas is expected to demand a large number of high-profile prisoners.

    More than 1.7 million people, three-fourths of Gaza’s population, have been displaced in the war. Many, if not most, will be unable to return home because of the vast damage and the presence of Israeli troops in the north.

    Israel has barred imports to Gaza since the start of the war, except for a trickle of aid. Humanitarian aid groups operating in Gaza said the truce will prove too short and the Rafah crossing’s capacity insufficient to meet urgent needs.

    Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press reporters Najib Jobain in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.



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