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The first phase of hostages held by Hamas could be released starting on Friday


After more than a month of captivity, the first group of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza could be released within hours. The Foreign Minister in Qatar where the deal was brokered says a four-day pause in fighting to facilitate an exchange of prisoners and aid will begin at midnight, Eastern time. Officials say a swap of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel will begin after that. We're joined now by Diana Buttu. She's a Palestinian human rights lawyer who was a peace negotiator and spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Diana, as someone who's been at the negotiating table with Israelis, what are your thoughts on this deal?

DIANA BUTTU: Well, it's sad that it's taken so long to achieve this because this is something that was mentioned within the first few days of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli government took the position that they instead wanted to go in and, as they put it, crush Hamas, which all they've really done is exert a great deal of damage to infrastructure, kill close to 18,000 Palestinians. And it was only because the families - these Israeli families put pressure on the Israeli government that we now see that they are now talking about exchanging Israelis for Palestinians. So it's very sad that it's taken so long and so many lives lost in the process.

MARTÍNEZ: But is this deal better than nothing at this point?

BUTTU: Of course. Look, any respite to Palestinians in terms of the halt on bombing is very much welcomed. You know, this is - I'm not sure if people really understand, but the Gaza Strip is a very tiny space. It's 26 miles long and 12 miles wide at its widest point. It's sustained over 6,000 bombs every single week, and the amount of destruction has been unprecedented. And so any respite is, of course, welcome. I just hope that it's not simply a pause but an actual cease-fire. And this is where efforts must be channeled into pushing for a complete and total cessation so that people's lives can be put back together, so that the Gaza Strip can be rebuilt and, of course, so that people can be returned to their families.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, this deal is supposed to exchange women and children on both sides. It's hostages held by Hamas, Palestinians held in Israeli jails. What's known about the Palestinians who would be freed under this agreement?

BUTTU: Well, there are - so far, there's a list of 300 Palestinians that Israel has put forward. And I think it's important for people to understand that the vast majority of these people are Palestinians who've never been convicted of a crime. Israel has a system in which - which is called administrative detention whereby people can be picked up and held without charge, without trial, for six months at a time and that detention then renewed indefinitely.

So many of the people who are on this list fall into that category. There are five children that are under the age of 14 and a number of women, as well. I think it's very important for people to understand that this is not a normal legal system, but it's a system where Israel has had a 95 to 99% conviction rate, and people are not tried in a regular court. They're tried in what's called a military court. Again, it's really sad that it's gotten to this point. This is why so many Palestinians have been pushing the international community to pressure Israel to release these individuals, 'cause they shouldn't be languishing in prisons in any case, and certainly not children.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering what you mentioned, how long it's taken to even get to this point, what does this possibly - this deal possibly happening mean for maybe the prospect of more release of more captives?

BUTTU: Well, certainly I hope that that's going to be the next step. And within this agreement, from the text that I've seen so far, there is talk of releasing more in exchange for more. Again, this is where international involvement is so vital and so necessary. It shouldn't be the situation where it's just Palestinians versus Israelis and that Palestinians have to be pushing for their prisoners to be released. There should be international involvement to end this system of military detention. So I'm certainly hopeful that this will lead to more. But, of course, it has to be coupled with a complete cessation, a complete cease-fire.

MARTÍNEZ: Diana Buttu is a Palestinian human rights lawyer and analyst. Thank you very much.

BUTTU: Thank you.

MARTÍNEZ: For more coverage and for differing views and analysis of the conflict, go to npr.org/middleeast. And we'll note here, the Gaza Health Ministry says it can no longer provide an accurate count of deaths in Gaza since October 7 and the United Nations says its last verified total is 11,078. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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