A temporary truce period between Israel and Hamas has begun – with the first group of Israeli women and children due to be released later today.
There has been no official word from either side as to whether there has been a pause in the fighting – however, the truce period was due to start at 7am local time (5am UK).
However, sirens were sounded just minutes into the truce in Israel, warning two villages close to the Gaza border of possible rocket attacks fired from Gaza, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said.
The IDF said it had “completed its operational preparations according to the combat lines of the pause”.
“Earlier this morning, IDF troops destroyed the terror tunnel that was revealed in the area of the Shifa Hospital.
“Over the last day and night, IDF troops on the ground, in the air, and at sea continued to strike terror targets, operate in different areas to locate suspicious structures and engage with terrorists.
“In addition, the forces struck a terror tunnel route, which was identified over the past few days.”
The handover of up to 50 Israeli captives is expected to be carried out in stages as the temporary pause in hostilities got under way.
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‘The aid will go in at 7am’
As many as 30 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails are due to be sent in the opposite direction.
The temporary truce is expected to last for four days.
Avichay Adraee, the IDF’s spokesperson for Arab media, reiterated the truce will only last four days, saying in a video on X (formerly Twitter): “The war is not over yet.”
He added: “The northern Gaza Strip is a dangerous war zone, and it is forbidden to move north.”
“For your safety, you must remain in the humanitarian zone in the south.”
Alongside the exchange of hostages and prisoners, aid will be allowed into Gaza after the seven-week siege saw fuel and medical supplies cut off.
The first hostages are due to be freed at 4pm local time (2pm UK) this afternoon, followed by the next stages of the agreement.
The deal was finalised after weeks of negotiations involving Qatari mediators and backed by US President Joe Biden.
Israel launched its war in Gaza after Hamas gunmen stormed across the border fence on 7 October – killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages.
More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s bombardment began, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory.
At 7am in Israel and Gaza, the long-awaited temporary ceasefire came into effect.
In the minutes leading up to it, large clouds of black smoke could be seen rising from Gaza as the IDF carried out large airstrikes before the truce.
Unlike with previous ceasefires between the two sides, there wasn’t a large barrage of rocket fire from Gaza, perhaps indicating the extent to which Hamas’s rocket capability has been degraded.
Air raid sirens did sound along the Gaza border at 0715 but it’s unclear whether that was a violation of the agreement or a false alarm.
All being well, the first hostages will be released at 4pm this afternoon – 13 women and children. Their relatives have been informed.
A further group will be released tomorrow and on the subsequent days, if the pause holds.
At the same time, Israel will start releasing some of the 150 Palestinians they’ve agreed to free.
And this is a chance to surge humanitarian aid into Gaza – some 200 trucks a day are expected, along with fuel.
Israeli forces have stayed in position in northern Gaza but all Israeli flights over southern Gaza will have to stop, as they will in northern Gaza for six hours a day.
The truce is extremely fragile and with Hamas as fragmented as it now is, the chances of it being broken are high.
But as the sun rises on this Friday morning, people in Israel, and Gaza, hold their breath.
Written by: Newsroom