Israel’s national security adviser and the US did not announce an official starting point on Thursday morning, but Qatar’s spokesperson appeared to confirm the timing hours later.
Dr Majed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, said it had seen a list of those who would be freed, and that families would be prioritised.
An Egyptian security source told Reuters that mediators had initially been rooting for it begin at 10am local time, on Thursday, after both sides agreed to a temporary truce on Wednesday morning.
On Thursday, White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson suggested it would be imminent, saying only a few logistical details still needed to be sorted.
There was a 24-hour delay because the agreement had not been signed by either Hamas or Qatar mediators, according to Israeli media.
What did Israel and Hamas agree to?
Under an outline of the deal, announced early on Wednesday, the Israeli government said Hamas is to free at least 50 of the roughly 240 hostages taken by the Palestinian militant group during its October 7 attack on the country over a four-day period.
There will be a temporary ceasefire that will begin with four days and be extended by an another day for every 10 additional hostages released by Hamas, The Associated Press added.
There could even be a second wave of releases, a Palestinian source told Reuters news agency, with as many as 100 hostages freed by the end of November.
Israel is expected to release about 150 Palestinians, mostly women and children.
Israel’s justice ministry has published a list of 300 names of Palestinian prisoners who may be freed. Israeli’s Ynet news website reported Israel had not received the names of the Hamas hostages expected to be released.
Israel will also allow 300 aid trucks to enter Gaza per day during the pause in fighting in the Palestinian enclave. Hamas said Israel is expected to stop all air sorties over southern Gaza and maintain a daily six-hour daytime no-fly period in the north.
Does this mean the violence could end?
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed the ceasefire does not mean the end of the war, vowing to continue Israel’s assault against Hamas after the reprieve ends.
“Tonight, the government approved the outline for the first stage,” the government said in a statement outlining the terms. “The Israeli government, the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] and the security forces will continue the war to return all the abductees, complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that Gaza does not renew any threat to the State of Israel.”
What led to the truce?
Qatar and the US have reportedly been working for weeks with both sides on a potential agreement behind the scenes.
A Hamas official also told Al Jazeera TV that negotiations had centred around three elements: how long the truce might last, how aid would be delivered into Gaza and the exchange of Hamas’ Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Israel had not commented on the peace talks ahead of the announcement, which followed a vote by Israel’s cabinet.
The UK’s foreign secretary David Cameron said the agreement was “a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.
He said: “I urge all parties to ensure the agreement is delivered in full. Of course, we want to see all hostages released immediately and families affected by the horrors of the October 7 terror attack reunited.
“This pause provides an important opportunity to ensure much greater volumes of food, fuel and other life-saving aid can reach Gaza on a sustained basis.
“The UK will continue to work with all partners in the region to secure the release of all hostages, restore security and reach a long-term political solution which enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.”
Anticipation of a truce of some kind had been growing in the run up to the announcement.
Last week, Reuters reported Qatari mediators were looking for Hamas to release 50 hostages in exchange for the freedom of Palestinian prisoners and a three-day ceasefire.
Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Herzog, said on Sunday he was looking for an agreement “in the coming days”, and Qatar’s PM Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani saying only “very minor” details needed to be resolved.
On Monday, US president Joe Biden said a deal was near.
How has the war unfolded so far?
Hamas launched an unexpected attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 240 others hostage, according to Israeli estimates.
Israel then declared war on the Palestinian militants, put the Hamas-run Gaza Strip under siege and launched a series of air strikes. It ordered an evacuation from the north of the territory, displacing around two-thirds of population of 2.3 million, and initiated a ground invasion.
The Hamas-run health ministry of Gaza estimates that more than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed.
He reportedly told representatives of the hostages’ families on Monday evening that the release of the hostages and the defeat of Hamas is “equally important”.
Israeli officials have maintained that only military pressure on Hamas will trigger a hostage release through a potential peace agreement which could include a temporary ceasefire.
Hamas has released four hostages so far and Israel rescued another. The bodies of two others were found near Shifa.