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Israel-Hamas hostage deal delayed

A hostage exchange deal between Israel and the Hamas militant group will be postponed until Friday, a senior Israeli official has said. The arrangement was originally set to begin on Thursday, with Israeli forces expected to pause operations for four days to allow aid into Gaza.

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Israeli National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi announced the delay in a statement on Wednesday, stressing that the negotiations were still underway and that the deal was set to be finalized.

“The contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly. The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday,” Hanegbi said.

READ MORE: Israel’s hostage deal with Hamas: What we know so far

An unnamed Israeli official cited by Haaretz added that the four-day pause to Israel’s military operations would also be delayed, suggesting air and ground raids in Gaza would continue until the deal is officially implemented.

A spokesperson for the US National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, said the one-day delay did not indicate the deal was in danger, stating that it “was agreed and remains agreed.”

“It is our view that nothing should be left to chance as the hostages begin coming home. Our primary objective is to ensure that they are brought home safely. That is on track and we are hopeful that implementation will begin on Friday morning,” Watson said.

Israel’s cabinet agreed to the hostage deal late Tuesday night. Under terms brokered with the help of Qatari, Egyptian, and American mediators, Hamas would release 50 Israeli hostages – all women and children – in exchange for 150 Palestinian civilians currently held by Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would also halt attacks on Gaza for four days, and would pause operations for one more day for every ten additional captives freed by the Palestinian militant group.

According to Hamas, Israel has also agreed to halt all drone flights over the southern portion of Gaza during the four-day pause, and to limit flights over the north to certain times of day. The IDF has urged Palestinian civilians to evacuate to the south for their own safety, though rights groups have accused Israeli forces of continued strikes in the evacuation zone, including on United Nations shelters. Israel maintains it attacks military targets only.

READ MORE: Moscow hails Israel-Hamas hostage deal

More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas during the group’s October 7 attack on Israel, which left some 1,200 people dead. Some of the captives are foreign nationals, including citizens of the US, Thailand, Britain, France, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Spain, and Portugal, according to Israeli officials.

Israel has launched weeks of airstrikes on Gaza and escalated a ground raid on the territory, killing more than 12,000 Palestinians, including over 5,000 children, according to health officials in the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave.

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