Hamas handed two female hostages to the Red Cross in Gaza City’s central Palestine Square and further hostages are expected to be released later in the evening following a last-minute deal struck with Israel to extend a truce.
Israel identified the freed hostages as 21-year-old Mia Schem, who was seized at a dance party along with many of the other hostages abducted into Gaza, and 40-year-old Amit Soussana. Schem also holds French nationality.
Footage aired on Aljazeera showed the women being taken out of a white vehicle surrounded by armed Hamas militants in Gaza City and met by Red Cross officials, amid a throng of onlookers.
Later, photos released by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office showed Schem embracing her mother and brother after they were reunited at Hatzerim military base in Israel.
Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their ceasefire for a seventh day, while mediators pressed on with talks to extend the truce further to free more hostages and let aid reach Gaza.
The truce has halted bombing and allowed some humanitarian aid into Gaza after much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million people was reduced to wasteland in an Israeli campaign in retaliation for a deadly rampage by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for a deadly shooting in Jerusalem, which Israel called further proof of the need to destroy the militants, although there were no signs of this scuppering the Gaza truce or release of hostages.
Earlier, Israel, which has demanded Hamas release at least 10 hostages per day to hold the ceasefire, said it received a list at the last minute of those who would go free on Thursday, allowing it to call off plans to resume fighting at dawn.
Hamas freed 16 hostages on Wednesday while Israel released 30 Palestinian prisoners.
Mia Schem had appeared in a hostage video released by Hamas in October which showed her injured arm being treated by an unidentified medical worker.
Her father David told Israel’s Channel 12 TV on Thursday that when they meet, he will not say a word to her. “I don’t want to ask her questions, because I don’t know what she endured.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Israel during his third visit to the Middle East since the war began, said the truce was “producing results.” U.S. officials said Blinken also told the Israelis to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians once the war resumes.
Egypt’s state media body said Egyptian and Qatari mediators were working to negotiate a further extension of the truce for two days.