Thirteen Israelis, four children and nine women, returned to the Jewish state on Friday evening after 49 days in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip.
Israel identified the released hostages as: Yafa Ader, 85, Hannah Perry, 79, Ruthi Mondar, 78, Hannah Katzir, 77, Margalit Mozes, 77, Adina Moshe, 72, Keren Mondar, 54, Danielle Aloni, 44, Doron Katz Asher, 34, Emilia Aloni, 9, Ohad Mondar, 9, Raz Katz Asher, 5, and Aviv Katz Asher, 2. Ten Thai citizens and one Filipino citizen were also released.
The much-anticipated homecoming of the children and women was bitter-sweet for Israel, as 34 kids and 180 other hostages were believed to remain captive in Gaza. Among the Israeli children who were still missing were a 10-month-old baby and his family and a 3-year-old girl whose parents were murdered by terrorists.
“We have now completed the return of the first of our hostages—children, their mothers, and other women. Each and every one of them is an entire world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “But I stress to you, the families of the hostages, and to you, the citizens of Israel: We are committed to the return of all our abductees. This is one of the goals of the war, and we are committed to achieving all goals of the war.”
Palestinian terrorists from Gaza abducted 245 people, most of them Israeli civilians, during a rampage through southern Israel on Oct. 7 that left more than 1,200 people dead. Before Friday, Hamas, which planned and led the attack, released four of the hostages, and the Israel Defense Forces rescued one. Of the 13 Israeli hostages released on Friday, 12 were among 77 people taken from Nir Oz, a kibbutz near Israel’s Gaza border. Perry was abducted from the nearby kibbutz Nirim.
Doron Katz Asher and her two daughters, Raz and Aviv, had been visiting relatives in Nir Oz when they were abducted. On Friday night, all three were headed for a reunion with their father, Yoni Asher, 37, who had campaigned to secure their freedom.
In exchange for the release of the hostages by Hamas, Israel on Friday let go 39 teenage and women Palestinian security prisoners. Earlier on Friday, Israel and Hamas enacted a ceasefire that was another condition of their agreement, brokered by Qatar. A total of 50 children and women hostages and 150 minor and women Palestinian prisoners were to be released during the four-day truce. Israel said it could extend the ceasefire by up to six days, releasing up to 150 more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 50 more of its hostages.
Hamas released the non-Israeli hostages, all of whom are men, following separate negotiations mediated by Egypt and Qatar.
Red Cross officials transported the 24 released hostages out of Gaza to Egypt via the Rafah border crossing. Israeli troops then brought the group into Israel through the Nitzana border crossing. Following physical and mental health checks at the Hatzerim air force base near Beersheba, the military will fly the hostages to four hospitals across Israel, where families were awaiting their arrival.
Yehuda Beinin, 70, watched the return of the released hostages live on TV, alongside survivors of the Nir Oz massacre at a hotel in Eilat, Israel. He said he does not expect Israel’s ongoing exchange with Hamas to bring home his daughter, Liat Beinin Atzili, or her husband, Aviv Atzili, both 49, who disappeared from Nir Oz on Oct. 7.
“We are taking a very stoic approach to all of this, and we are taking great care not to fall into the trap of the Hamas psychological warfare,” Beinin said, referring also to his wife and three grandchildren whose parents are missing. “It’s very difficult because of course one’s natural inclination is to be hopeful and to pray and to lose sight of what the actual reality of the situation is, which is dire because we are dealing with a terrorist organization whose modes of operation in the past are well known.”
Still, Beinin, an American-Israeli who lives on a kibbutz in the north of Israel, said he was moved to tears by the Nir Oz survivor’s reaction to the news.
“Every time the kids recognized someone on the TV, they were applauding, they were cheering,” said Beinin. “To see how happy these kids are, how excited they are, actually brought tears to my eyes. It was a very moving experience to see that, and I can only hope there are more of those in the future.”
“Clearly,” he added, “it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to ensure the return of the hostages, first and foremost.”