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Hold-up to Israel-Hamas hostage deal delays pause in fighting

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A hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas will not begin until Friday, a day later than originally expected, Israel’s national security adviser said.

Israeli and Hamas officials had earlier said that an agreement had been struck under which Hamas would free 50 hostages held in Gaza, in exchange for a four-day truce and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

The deal was expected to take effect on Thursday morning. But in a brief statement late on Wednesday, Tzachi Hanegbi said that “the start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday”.

“The contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,” he said, without giving a reason for the delay.

A person briefed on the process said there were no serious issues, but it had taken longer than expected to gather some of the information, including on hostages and the Palestinian prisoners that Israel was set to release.

The person said there would be an announcement “soon” on when the pause would go into effect. “We expect minor delays throughout the process,” the person said.

White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the final logistical details of the deal were being worked out. “That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning,” she said.

If the exchange goes ahead, the four-day truce will be the longest pause in fighting since the war erupted on October 7. Under the terms of the deal, the first 50 of the roughly 240 hostages held in Gaza would be released in groups of at least 10 a day, staggered over four days.

Israel will release three Palestinian prisoners for each hostage freed, and 200 trucks of aid per day will also be allowed into Gaza, whose 2.3mn people have been living in dire conditions since Israel severely restricted supplies of food, water, electricity and fuel at the start of the war.

The deal could be extended in a second phase to encompass the release of up to 50 more hostages, and up to 150 more Palestinian prisoners.

However, even if the exchange is completed, Hamas will still hold about 150 prisoners, including Israeli soldiers — the militant group has previously indicated that it hopes to trade them for high-ranking Palestinians, some of them militants, in Israeli prisons.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of Hanegbi’s announcement of the delay, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that the deal would not mean a permanent end to hostilities, and that Israel would continue fighting until it had achieved its aims of destroying Hamas and bringing home all the hostages. “I want to be clear — the war is continuing,” he said.

Fighting continued on Thursday morning, with the Israeli military saying it was striking targets in Jabalia in northern Gaza, and militants firing rockets at Israel from the strip. Israeli forces also traded fire with militants on the northern border with Lebanon.

Israel invaded Gaza after Hamas militants stormed into Israel from the enclave on October 7, and carried out the deadliest ever attack on Israeli territory, killing around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed almost 13,000 people, including more than 5,300 children, according to Palestinian officials, as well as displacing more than 1.7mn people.

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