Thirteen Israeli citizens held captive by Hamas since Oct. 7 have been freed from Gaza and are now back home in Israel, according to Israel Defense Forces. The hostage release was part of a long-awaited but complex deal between Israel and the terrorist group, which includes a four-day cease-fire.
In addition to the 13 Israeli captives, 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino citizen were also freed as part of a last-minute decision.
All fighting was halted as of 7 a.m. local time Friday as part of the deal, which included the release of 50 total Hamas hostages being held in Gaza — consisting of women and children — in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. On the Palestinian side, Israel released the first 39 prisoners Friday.
U.S. President Joe Biden hailed the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that is allowing for hostages to be released.
"Today's release are the start of a process. We expect more hostages to be released tomorrow. And more the day after, and more the day after that. Over the next few days, we expect that dozens of hostages will be returned to their families,” said the president during a speech Friday.
In his speech, President Biden expressed his "hope and expectation" for the release of American hostages “soon,” although he did not specify the number.
"This deal also is structured to allow a pause to continue for more than 50 hostages to be released. That's our goal,” he said.
The hostages released from Gaza were delivered to Red Cross International through the Rafah Crossing and brought into Israel. IDF soldiers remained with the hostages as they proceeded to hospitals for medical evaluation and to reunite with their loved ones.
"IDF Special Forces and ISA Forces are currently with the released hostages. They will continue to be accompanied by IDF soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families," IDF posted on X.
"The IDF, together with the entire Israeli security establishment, will continue operating until all the hostages are returned home," it said.
A total of six Israeli hospitals were prepared ahead of time to receive and treat the released hostages by the time they started to arrive Friday night, according to Associate Director General of the Ministry of Health Dr. Joseph Mendlovic.
Eight people, including four kids and four women, are at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center. The CEO, Dr. Efrat Bron-Harlev, says they're physically okay and will get psychological support.
“There are not enough words to express the emotion that we are feeling at this time together with the families and the entire nation of Israel,” said Bron-Harlev. “We will do our utmost to care for the physical and emotional health of the returned hostages. From our perspective, this is a national mission, and we are just extremely proud to have the privilege to treat them.”
Additionally, 200 trucks with humanitarian aid approved by Israel were sent Friday to international organizations in Gaza as part of the agreed humanitarian pause.
IDF Special Forces and ISA Forces are currently with the released hostages. They will continue to be accompanied by IDF soldiers as they make their way to Israeli hospitals, where they will be reunited with their families.
The IDF, together with the entire Israeli…
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) November 24, 2023
Families of the hostages that were set to be released Friday were notified the day prior. Names have now been released to the public.
Liat Bell Sommer, a spokesperson for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum headquarters, shared the names of the 13 Israeli citizens who were freed Friday.
Among them are 72-year-old Adina Moshe, who was kidnapped from her home after terrorists murdered her husband; 78-year-old Margalit Moses, a cancer survivor who has diabetes and fibromyalgia, and requires many additional medications; Daniel Aloni and her 6-year-old daughter Emilia; Ruthy Munder (whose husband is still in captivity), and Karen Munder and her 9-year-old son Ohad.
Others freed from Gaza include Doron Katz Asher and her daughters, 2-year-old Aviv and 4-year-old Raz.
Hanna Peri, 79, was also released from Gaza. She’s a mother of three children — one who was murdered and another who was kidnapped. Yaffa Adar, 85, was also freed. One of Adar's eight grandchildren, 38-year-old Tamir Adar, was kidnapped with her and remains under Hamas captivity. Israeli newspaper Haaretz said 77-year-old Hanna Katzir was also set free.
Interestingly, one of the hostages who was freed was previously featured in jihad videos implying she was dead, demonstrating the psychological warfare at play.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant oversaw the transfer of hostages to Israel from the Israel Defense Forces Operations Branch control center at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.
Once the hostages made it to safety, Netanyahu spoke out in a press conference.
"We just completed the return of the first of our hostages: children, their mothers and additional women. Each of them is an entire world," said the prime minister.
"But I emphasize to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel: We are committed to returning all the hostages," he said. "This is one of the aims of the war and we are committed to achieving all the aims of the war."
The agreement to pause the fighting was especially welcome to the more than 2 million people in Gaza who have been under constant bombardment for weeks. When the truce began, thousands of Palestinians started fleeing toward southern Gaza.
As part of the agreement, Israel will allow up to 300 trucks of aid into Gaza per day during the cease-fire. Included among the first wave were tankers carrying much-needed diesel fuel and others with natural gas for cooking. The fuel will help operate essential infrastructure, which has been decimated during the war. Israel has been concerned about fuel deliveries, saying Hamas uses it for rocket attacks and had previously taken fuel intended for civilians.
Airstrikes went on throughout the day Thursday when the hostage deal failed to go into effect as first announced, with many people waiting to see what that meant. One hit a refugee camp in central Gaza, killing at least a dozen people, including women and children. Strikes continued as the tense deal was being finalized with help from Qatar and Egypt. As the fighting intensified, so did the pressure on all sides to reach an agreement.
Much hinges on hostages being freed. Israel has said it would extend the four-day pause in fighting one day for every 10 additional hostages released.
Close to 200 hostages still being held captive by Hamas are not part of the hostages being released according to current terms in the deal.
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