Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas begins with a swap of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners

Gaza ceasefire in second day

There were moments of jubilation outside a suburban Tel Aviv hospital Friday with the arrival by helicopter of hostages released by Hamas.

Israelis, waving flags and cheering, were celebrating the release of 24 hostages, 13 of them Israeli women and children, held in Gaza for weeks.

Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, 39 Palestinian prisoners returned home to a hero’s welcome — freed as a part of a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas.

“Look, this is good news,” declares Eric Schwartz, a former assistant secretary of state, now a public affairs professor at the University of Minnesota.

He says the four-day cease-fire could save lives and keep the two sides talking.

“It offers the hope for some degree of more discussions and negotiations,” Schwartz explains. “Not only on additional hostage releases and exchanges but also a prolonging of this period of non-hostilities.”

Under the deal, Hamas is to release at least 50 hostages, and Israel, 150 Palestinian prisoners over the next four days.

But Steve Hunegs, the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, is thinking about what happens after that.

“It’s an important beginning, no question about that,” he says. “Israel won’t rest until all the hostages have been freed. Calling for a cease-fire now without the return of the hostages is simply granting Hamas a victory for its terrorism.”

The losses have been enormous.

The Israeli government says 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, and nearly 240 people were abducted during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

And now?

“The relief of the families whose loved ones have been released, the anguish of the families whose loved ones have not returned,” Hunegs says. “What guarantees will Israel have going forward that Hamas won’t resort to its terrorism? So, it’s an incredibly complicated situation, to say the least.”

Meanwhile, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says the Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians.

Three-quarters of the territory’s population have been driven from their homes.

Residential areas are now leveled.   

“Not having bombs being dropped on you every minute of the day is an extremely welcome thing,” says Taher Herzallah, a spokesperson for American Muslims for Palestine. “We hope this is not temporary. We hope this is not a four-day truce, we hope this is a permanent cease-fire.”

In Gaza, the truce’s start Friday morning brought the first quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians, reeling from the Israeli bombardment.

Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well.  

“Food and water are scarce (in Gaza) are scarce,” Herzallah says. “People living in the north are living in squalid conditions. I have family members who are trapped in their buildings.”

Israel says the four-day truce can be extended an extra day for every additional ten hostages released.

Their plight has raised anger among some families that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not doing enough to bring them home.

But Israel has vowed to resume its massive offense once the truce ends.

Schwartz, though, thinks extending the cease-fire could make a difference.

“That creates momentum. It also creates an increased pressure not to resume fighting, and not to resume the killing,” he explains. “And to come up with alternative paths forward. That can only be good news.”