Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Israeli soldiers stand on a tank, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, near Israel's border with Gaza in southern Israel, on Nov. 23.AMIR COHEN/Reuters

Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas will start a four-day truce on Friday morning with a first group of 13 Israeli women and child hostages released later that day, mediators in Qatar said.

World powers gave the news a cautious welcome. But fighting raged on as the hours counted down to the planned start of the first break in a brutal, near seven-week-old war. Both sides also signalled the pause would be temporary before fighting resumed.

The truce would begin at 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and involve a comprehensive ceasefire in north and south Gaza, Qatar’s foreign ministry said.

Additional aid would start flowing into Gaza and the first hostages including elderly women would be freed at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), with the total number rising to 50 over the four days, ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said in the Qatari capital Doha.

It was expected Palestinians would be released from Israeli jail, he told reporters. “We all hope that this truce will lead to a chance to start a wider work to achieve a permanent truce.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, vacationing in the Massachusetts island of Nantucket for the Thanksgiving holiday, said he was keeping his “fingers crossed” that a 3-year-old American girl would be among those released first.

A U.S. State Department official called the truce a “hopeful moment” but said the administration would work to secure the release of all hostages in the coming weeks.

Hamas – which had been expected to declare a truce with Israel a day earlier on Thursday only for negotiations to drag on – confirmed on its Telegram channel that all hostilities from its forces would cease.

But Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, later referred to “this temporary truce” in a video message that called for an “escalation of the confrontation with (Israel) on all resistance fronts,” including the Israeli-occupied West Bank where violence has surged since the Gaza war erupted.

Israel’s military said its troops would stay behind a ceasefire line inside Gaza, without giving details of its position.

“These will be complicated days and nothing is certain … Even during this process there could be changes,” Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.

“Control over northern Gaza is the first step of a long war, and we are preparing for the next stages,” he added. Israel had received an initial list of hostages to be freed and was in touch with families, the prime minister’s office said.

Israel launched its devastating invasion of Gaza after gunmen from Hamas burst across the border fence on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, some 13,000 Gazans have been killed by Israeli bombardment, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities. However they have said it has become increasingly difficult to keep an up-to-date tally as the health service has buckled under the Israeli bombardment.

Ahead of the ceasefire, fighting continued at even greater than normal intensity, with Israeli jets hitting more than 300 targets and troops engaged in heavy fighting around Jabalia refugee camp north of Gaza City.

An army spokesman said operations would continue until troops received the order to stop.

Hamas said 30 people had been killed in an Israeli strike on a school affiliated with the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA in Jabalia. There was no immediate comment from UNRWA.

Earlier, from across the border fence in Israel, clouds of smoke could be seen billowing above northern Gaza’s war zone accompanied by the sounds of heavy gunfire and booming explosions.

The Indonesian hospital in Gaza City was being bombed on Thursday, Gaza health officials said. Bedridden old people and children remain in the hospital, which was now operating without light, the director of Gaza’s Health Ministry, Mounier Al-Barsh, told Al-Jazeera from inside the hospital.

“We fear for the lives of 200 wounded people and medical staff,” said Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra.

International alarm has focused on the fate of hospitals, especially in Gaza’s northern half, where all medical facilities have ceased functioning with patients, staff and displaced people trapped inside.

In Rafah, on the strip’s southern edge, residents combed with bare hands through the ruins of a house smashed in a giant crater. A grey-bearded man wailed amid the shattered masonry while another man lay a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. Neighbour Khaled Hamad told Reuters it was the home of a primary school teacher, killed inside with his children.

Israel says Hamas fighters use residential and other civilian buildings, including hospitals, as cover. Hamas denies this.

The delay to the start of the truce meant another day of worry for Israeli relatives who say they still know nothing about the fate of hostages, and of fear for Palestinian families trapped inside the Gaza combat zone.

“We need to know they are alive, if they’re okay. It’s the minimum,” said Gilad Korngold, desperate for any information about the fate of seven of his family members, including his 3-year-old granddaughter, believed to be among the hostages.

Palestinian media reported at least 15 people killed in air strikes on Khan Younis, Gaza’s main southern city. Reuters could not independently verify the toll there.

Israel said its strikes in the past day had hit “military command centres, underground terror tunnels, weapon storage facilities, weapon manufacturing sites, and anti-tank missile launch posts.”

Israel said on Thursday it had detained the head of Gaza’s biggest hospital Al Shifa for questioning over his role in what it said was the hospital’s use as a Hamas command centre.

Hamas condemned the arrest of Shifa director Muhammad Abu Salamiya and other doctors it said were trying to evacuate remaining patients and wounded from the facility.

Open this photo in gallery:

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visit Kibbutz Beeri, in southern Israel, on Nov. 23.ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday after visiting the south of the country to see for himself the communities affected by last month’s Hamas attacks.

Britain’s Foreign Office said former prime minister Cameron, who was appointed to the foreign policy brief last week, was due to meet Palestinian leaders later to discuss the way forward in the crisis.

“I wanted to come here in person … to see just the true nature of the horrific attacks that you faced, I think that’s very important to do that and see that, we stand with the people of Israel,” Cameron told Netanyahu.

Cameron’s visit came as war raged on in Gaza, with a proposed truce and release of hostages delayed for at least another day.

“It’s important we talk about this potential humanitarian pause. I think it’s an opportunity to crucially get the hostages out and to get aid into Gaza,” Cameron added. “I hope everyone who is responsible and behind this agreement can make it happen.”

Netanyahu said getting the hostages out was “not without its challenges” but Israel was committed to getting everyone out.

“But we’ll continue with our war aims, namely to eradicate Hamas, because Hamas has already promised that they will do this again and again and again,” he said.

“There’s no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and the Arab states, if we don’t eradicate this murderous movement that threatens the future of all of us.”

Earlier Cameron, wearing a flak jacket, toured damaged buildings in Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen, telling reporters he had “heard things and seen things that obviously I will never forget.”

Cameron met counterparts from Arab and Islamic countries in London on Wednesday to discuss the conflict.

Both British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Cameron’s predecessor James Cleverly have visited Israel since fighting began last month.

Israel launched its devastating invasion of Gaza after gunmen from Hamas burst across the border fence on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, some 13,000 Gazans have been killed by Israeli bombardment, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities. However they have said it has become increasingly difficult to keep an up-to-date tally as the health service has buckled under the Israeli bombardment.

Ahead of the ceasefire, fighting continued at even greater than normal intensity, with Israeli jets hitting more than 300 targets and troops engaged in heavy fighting around Jabalia refugee camp north of Gaza City.

An army spokesman said operations would continue until troops received the order to stop.

Hamas said 30 people had been killed in an Israeli strike on a school affiliated with the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA in Jabalia. There was no immediate comment from UNRWA.

Earlier, from across the border fence in Israel, clouds of smoke could be seen billowing above northern Gaza’s war zone accompanied by the sounds of heavy gunfire and booming explosions.

In Rafah, on the strip’s southern edge, residents combed with bare hands through the ruins of a house smashed in a giant crater. A grey-bearded man wailed amid the shattered masonry while another man lay a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. Neighbour Khaled Hamad told Reuters it was the home of a primary school teacher, killed inside with his children.

Israel says Hamas fighters use residential and other civilian buildings, including hospitals, as cover. Hamas denies this.

The delay to the start of the truce meant another day of worry for Israeli relatives who say they still know nothing about the fate of hostages, and of fear for Palestinian families trapped inside the Gaza combat zone.

“We need to know they are alive, if they’re okay. It’s the minimum,” said Gilad Korngold, desperate for any information about the fate of seven of his family members, including his 3-year-old granddaughter, believed to be among the hostages.

Israel-Hamas hostage deal offers hope for longer-term peace in Gaza, Trudeau says

Palestinian media reported at least 15 people killed in air strikes on Khan Younis, Gaza’s main southern city. Reuters could not independently verify the toll there.

Israel said its strikes in the past day had hit “military command centres, underground terror tunnels, weapon storage facilities, weapon manufacturing sites, and anti-tank missile launch posts.”

Israel said on Thursday it had detained the head of Gaza’s biggest hospital Al Shifa for questioning over his role in what it said was the hospital’s use as a Hamas command centre.

Hamas condemned the arrest of Shifa director Muhammad Abu Salamiya and other doctors it said were trying to evacuate remaining patients and wounded from the facility.

International alarm has focused on the fate of hospitals, especially in Gaza’s northern half, where all medical facilities have ceased functioning with patients, staff and displaced people trapped inside.

“For 11 days, we lacked water, food, and medical supplies, except for two instances when the Israeli occupation army brought sandwiches and water, which fed less than half of the people in the hospital,” Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a Shifa doctor, said.

“Every day, patients die due to Israeli occupation forces occupying the hospital.”

The militant Hezbollah group fired more than 50 rockets at military posts in northern Israel on Thursday, a day after an Israeli air strike on a home in southern Lebanon killed five of the group’s senior fighters.

The waves of rockets sent over the border represented one of the most intense bombardments since Hezbollah started attacking Israeli posts in the country’s north at the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

Hezbollah has said that by heating up its actions on the Israel-Lebanon border, it is easing pressure on the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s crushing aerial, ground and naval offensive has left more than 13,300 Palestinians dead and caused wide destruction in the sealed-off enclave.

Hezbollah said in a series of statements released Thursday that the volleys it fired toward Israeli posts included 48 Katyusha rockets that were directed at an Israeli army base in Beit Zeitem, about 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of the border.

In another attack, Hezbollah said its fighters monitored four Israeli soldiers as they took positions inside a house in the Manara Kibbutz then fired an anti-tank missile that destroyed the house and killed the soldiers. There was no comment on the claim by Israel’s military.

Hezbollah released at least 21 statements claiming attacks on Thursday alone making it a record in one day since the fighting began last month. The group said its fighters also struck Israeli tanks.

The intense fire followed an Israeli air strike on a house in Beit Yahoun, a village in southern Lebanon, that killed the five senior fighters, including Abbas Raad, the son of the head of Hezbollah’s 13-member parliamentary bloc in Lebanon, Mohammed Raad.

The deaths bring the number of Hezbollah fighters who have been killed in seven weeks of fighting to at least 83.

Thousands of people, including senior Hezbollah officials, attended Raad’s funeral in the southern village of Jbaa. After a Thursday afternoon ceremony in the main square, the coffin, draped in Hezbollah’s yellow flag, was carried to a cemetery for burial.

“When Netanyahu accepts to abide by a truce, this means he is not capable of wiping out the resistance,” top Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said in a funeral speech, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah met in Beirut in Thursday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. They discussed the ongoing war in Gaza and efforts to “stop the Israeli aggression,” as well as the situation at the tense Lebanon-Israel border, according to a statement released by Hezbollah.

Amirabdollahian warned in comments to journalists upon his arrival in Lebanon Wednesday that the ongoing Israel-Hamas war could “spiral out of control” if a truce does not last.

Iran-backed factions in Iraq, including the militant group Kataib Hezbollah, have carried out more than 60 and rocket or suicide drone attacks at bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. Kataib Hezbollah is allied with Lebanon’s Hezbollah but the groups have different leaders.

The U.S. military said Thursday that one of its warships in the Red Sea shot down bomb-carrying drones launched from territory controlled by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The American military’s Central Command said the USS Thomas Hudner, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, shot down the drones early Thursday morning. “The ship and crew sustained no damage or injury,” Central Command said.

– with files from the Associated Press

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe