A FOUR day truce has come into effect between Hamas and Israel, setting the stage for the exchange of dozens of hostages held by militants in Gaza for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

The halt in fighting was scheduled to begin at 7am local time (5am GMT) and is to last at least four days.

During the truce, Gaza’s ruling Hamas group pledged to free at least 50 of the about 240 hostages it and other militants took in their October 7 attack on Israel.

In turn, Israel is to free three Palestinian prisoners for each released hostage. The releases are to take place in stages over the next four days.

The truce deal was reached after weeks of intense indirect negotiations, with Qatar, the United States, and Egypt serving as mediators.

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If it holds, it would mark the first significant break in fighting since Israel declared war on Hamas seven weeks ago.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said the first 13 hostages, made up of women and children, will be freed by Hamas on Friday afternoon.

He did not say how many Palestinian prisoners would be freed, but officials have said three would be freed for every hostage.

Under the truce deal, 50 hostages are supposed to be freed in stages, in exchange for the release of what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners. Israel said the truce would be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it notified the families of hostages listed for release Friday.

According to al-Ansari, increased aid for Palestinians will start to enter Gaza “as soon as possible”. He added that the hope is the “momentum” from this deal will lead to an “end to this violence.”

Hamas said 200 trucks a day will enter Gaza carrying aid. Qatar said the aid will include fuel but has given no details on quantities.

Netanyahu vowed to continue the war after the truce expires, with the goal of destroying Hamas’ military capabilities, ending its 16-year rule in Gaza and returning all of the estimated 240 captives held in Gaza by Hamas and other groups.

“We will continue it until we achieve all our goals,” he said, adding that he had delivered the same message in a phone call to US President Joe Biden.

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Washington has provided extensive military and diplomatic support to Israel since the start of the war.

Israel Defence Forces spokesman Avichay Adraee backed up Netanyahu’s view that the ceasefire was not designed to last in a video posted on X/Twitter.

“The war is not over yet. The humanitarian pause is temporary,” he said. “The northern Gaza Strip is a dangerous war zone and it is forbidden to move north. For your safety, you must remain in the humanitarian zone in the south.”

The Israeli military dropped leaflets over southern Gaza, warning hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who sought refuge there not to try to return to their homes in the northern half of the territory - the focus of Israel’s ground offensive.

Israel has said it would block attempts to return.