Nine Israeli women and a 17-year-old girl were released by Hamas on Tuesday night after 53 days in captivity in Gaza, amid an extended truce deal with the Palestinian terror group that is expected to last at least until Wednesday, when another group of about 10 hostages is expected to be freed.
Hamas on Tuesday also released two foreign nationals from Thailand as part of a separate agreement.
The release of eight Israeli women, six of them elderly, and one mother and her teen daughter on Tuesday came hours after an apparent violation of the temporary halt in fighting, now in its fifth day, when Israeli troops were targeted in northern Gaza by Hamas explosives and gunfire. A number of soldiers sustained light injuries.
All the hostages were handed over by Hamas and terror ally Palestinian Islamic Jihad to the Red Cross in Gaza Tuesday night, then arrived in Israel via the Kerem Shalom crossing — sidestepping a transfer in Egypt — in a process that was also observed for the past two days of hostage transfers.
They were brought to hospitals in Israel for further treatment and monitoring, before being reunited with their families.
Hamas released footage of the handover in which the women can be seen walking, flanked by armed, masked terrorists. One of the hostages, Ditza Heiman, 84, was in a wheelchair and was helped into the Red Cross ambulance by medical staff. The handover in Rafah, southern Gaza, brightly lit and filmed by multiple cameras, was stage-managed by the terrorists in front of a large crowd.
Hamas propaganda video showing hostages being transferred to health authorities this evening. pic.twitter.com/WBKu0Oao88
— Joe Truzman (@JoeTruzman) November 28, 2023
Teen hostage Mia Leimberg, 17, was seen in initial clips of the release from inside the Gaza Strip holding her dog Bella, which was thought to have been killed in the October 7 onslaught.
That day, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took some 240 hostages including about 40 children.
The youngest among the nine remaining child hostages is Kfir Bibas, who was just nine months old when he was captured along with his parents and four-year-old brother Ariel from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. The baby’s aunt Ofri Bibas pleaded Tuesday for the family’s release as soon as possible.
The IDF said Monday that the Bibas family had been transferred by Hamas to another Palestinian terror group in Gaza, dampening hopes of their release during the current truce.
Most of the hostages released Tuesday were taken on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz, among the most devastated of the roughly 20 southern Israeli communities attacked that day. Nearly half of the kibbutz’s 400 residents were killed or abducted, according to a New York Times tally.
Like previous groups, many of those released Tuesday from Gaza leave behind spouses and family members.
Heiman, from Kibbutz Nir Oz, a mother of four, stepmother of three, grandmother to 20 and great-grandmother of five, lived alone on the kibbutz and was in her home’s safe room on the morning of October 7.
She spoke to her family members that morning, said stepson Amichai Shdaimah, who spoke with The Times of Israel last month shortly after her abduction. He said relatives checked up on Heiman and last heard from her around 10 a.m. Around 4 p.m., her phone was answered by a person speaking in Arabic.
Tamar (Tami) Metzger, 78, from Kibbutz Nir Oz was also released on Tuesday. Her husband, Yoram Metzger, 80, remains a hostage in Gaza.
The couple — parents of three and grandparents to seven — were in their safe room and were last heard from at 8:50 a.m. on October 7. When the family was later able to enter their house, there were no signs of struggle, aside from evidence that terrorists had ransacked the home.
Ada Sagi, 75, from Kibbutz Nir Oz, also released Tuesday, was considered missing and feared captive for 53 days.
Sagi was born in Tel Aviv in 1948, the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland. A mother of three, she learned Arabic to make friends with her neighbors and later taught the language to others as a way to improve communication with the Palestinians who live on the southeastern border of the Gaza Strip.
Her son Noam Sagi, based in London, last spoke to her at 9:20 a.m. on October 7. She told him she heard voices speaking in Arabic outside her house and that she was going into her safe room.
Noam Sagi has been a leader in the UK campaign to raise awareness for the Israeli hostages, alongside Sharone Lifshitz, daughter of Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, who was freed with another elderly Israeli woman, Nurit Cooper, 79, over a month ago.
Noralin Babadila Agojo, also known as Nora or Natalie, 60, was taken from Kibbutz Nirim on October 7 when terrorists invaded the community, killing her Israeli-born husband Gideon Babani.
The couple lived in the central town of Yehud and were visiting friends on the kibbutz that weekend to celebrate 70 years for the agricultural community in the south.
Her husband, Yagev Buchshtav, 34, remains a hostage in Gaza. The couple met in high school and then reconnected years later, marrying in 2021.
They were hiding in the safe room of their Nirim home on the morning of October 7. Rimon texted her family that she saw fire and terrorists shooting outside “everywhere.” She then sent her mother one last voice message — Rimon’s parents were also sheltering in a nearby community — “I love you, Mom. I’m so sorry I can’t be there with you. I love you.”
There were signs of struggle in the couple’s safe room, blood and bullet holes.
Teenager Mia Leimberg, 17, her mother, Gabriela Leimberg, 59, and family member Clara Marman, 62, were freed Tuesday after being taken hostage with two more relatives from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7.
Leimberg and her mother, from Jerusalem, were visiting her aunt, Marman and her partner Norberto Louis Har, 70, with another sibling, Fernando Marman, 60, on the kibbutz that weekend. They hid in the Marmans’ sealed room together trying to keep the heavy door jammed shut with a chair. The Marman siblings all immigrated to Israel from Argentina.
Har and Fernando Marman remain hostage in Gaza.
Har was in touch with his daughter by text message the morning of October. “They’re in,” he wrote. “There’s noise in the house, hoping for the best, kisses.”
“Where’s the army?” asked his daughter. After Har’s last message at 11:04 a.m., she frantically continued to write, but without any response.
Another immigrant from Argentina to Israel among those release Tuesday, Ofelia Roitman, 77, had been considered missing since the morning of October 7. She has lived on Kibbutz Nir Oz for the last 38 years.
Roitman was in touch with her family in those early morning hours, telling them what was unfolding at the kibbutz, as gunmen swarmed through the homes and community, killing, assaulting and kidnapping dozens of people.
By 9:37 a.m., the family received their last text message from Roitman: “Please send help, the Palestinians are here,” she wrote. Hours later, Israeli soldiers checked Roitman’s house and saw no signs of her body or of a struggle.
Meirav Tal, 54, from Kibbutz Nir Oz, also came home Tuesday. She was taken hostage with partner Yair Yaakov, 59, the father of brothers Or Yaakov, 16, and Yagil Yaakov, 13, who were released on Monday, with nine other hostages.
Tal was last heard from at 9:20 a.m. on October 7 after she sent a voice message to her partner’s brother, Yaniv Yaakov, that terrorists had entered their home. Yair Yaakov was trying to hold the safe room door shut, in order to fend off the attackers. That was the last time they communicated.
Also on Tuesday, the family of Ravid Katz, who was believed to have been taken hostage on October 7, announced that they had been informed that he had been killed in the attack, and that his body had been identified.
Katz was the brother of Doron Katz-Asher, who was released last week along with her daughters Raz, 5, and Aviv, 2.
“Ravid lived in Kibbutz Nir Oz, was an educator, a man of the beautiful Land of Israel, a wonderful father to Shahar, Shira and little Alma who is six months old, and a partner to Revital. We will always remember him,” brother-in-law Yoni Asher said in a statement.
Extended truce deal underway
Between Friday and Monday, when the truce was set to expire, Hamas released 50 Israeli hostages — 30 children and 20 Israeli women, 10 of them mothers of freed kids — abducted by Hamas during its October 7 onslaught. It also freed an Israeli-Russian man as a gesture to Moscow, and 18 foreigners — 17 Thais and a Filipino — as part of a separate, Iran-brokered deal.
In return, Israel has freed 150 female and underage Palestinians serving time in Israeli prison for security offenses.
The original deal stipulated that the ceasefire could be extended by more days — up to a total of 10 days, including the first four — if Hamas releases at least 10 additional hostages each day, with Israel freeing more security inmates at a ratio of three prisoners for every hostage.
Ater Hamas released 10 on Tuesday, it is expected to free another 10 Israeli hostages Wednesday.
Israel is expected to release 60 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors, as part of the two-day extension.
Mossad chief David Barnea was in Doha on Tuesday for talks on the hostages with Qatari officials, who are mediating the deal with Hamas. His trip will potentially lay the groundwork for future deals that could include hostages who did not fall under the current agreement, including men and possibly soldiers.
Before the current deal for 50 Israeli hostages and the subsequent extension, Hamas released four abductees — two elderly women and an American-Israeli mother and daughter — last month, and executed two hostages, 19-year-old Cpl. Noa Marciano, and Yehudit Weiss, 65.
The Israeli military rescued one hostage, Pvt. Ori Megidish, in late October during operations in northern Gaza.
Israel has vowed to renew its offensive in Gaza, aimed at rooting out Hamas, in full force once the truce ends.
Tal Schneider and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.