Thirteen Israelis — including four children — as well as 10 Thai nationals and a Filipino were safely back in Israel on Friday night following their release from 49 days held hostage in the Gaza Strip after they were abducted during the horrific Hamas onslaught on October 7.
The released Israelis included three mothers and their young children.
Twelve of the 13 are from Nir Oz, a Gaza-envelope kibbutz of some 400 people that was devastated on October 7, with many dozens of residents killed by the terrorists and up to 80 abducted and missing.
The hostages were first seen through the windows of ambulances as they crossed over from Gaza into Egypt, some of them waving.
A number of them were then seen walking across the border to waiting ambulances in Egypt, in footage broadcast by Israeli outlets.
An Egyptian news site published pictures of one of the hostages being embraced by an officer from the Israel Defense Forces.
The International Red Cross told the Magen David Adom emergency service that none of the released Israeli hostages were in serious condition. The IDF spokesman later confirmed that all had undergone initial medical tests and were in good condition.
The hostages were met by members of the Shin Bet security service and then ferried by the Israel Defense Forces in an operation dubbed “Heaven’s Door” via the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel, where they were taken to the Hatzerim Airbase near Beersheba for an initial reception, and to undergo a short physical and mental checkup. They were then taken to Schneider’s Children’s Medical Center and the Wolfson Medical Center in central Israel, and other medical centers, by helicopter and ambulance, to be reunited with their relatives.
Most of the Israeli hostages appeared to be in good physical health upon return to Israel, the hospitals receiving them said.
A statement from Schneider Children’s hospital, where four mothers and four child hostages were released, said that doctors had conducted a preliminary examination and they were all in good physical condition.
Five other Israeli hostages, all elderly women, were being cared for at Wolfson Hospital in Holon. Wolfson said some of the women were “feeble and exhausted” and were not likely to be released on Saturday, Ynet reported.
Crowds lined the roads in southern Israel as the ambulances passed through, and dozens gathered outside the hospitals to cheer as the released hostages disembarked from the helicopters.
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— اليوم السابع (@youm7) November 24, 2023
The 13 released Israeli hostages are:
Doron Katz-Asher and her two daughters Raz, 5, and Aviv, 2, were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Father Yoni is a key figure in the movement to free the hostages held in Gaza.
Emilia Aloni, 5, and her mother Danielle, 44, were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz while visiting family. Danielle was later seen in a Hamas propaganda video — her sister, brother-in-law and their twin three-year-old girls, remain hostage in Gaza.
Ohad Munder-Zichri, 9, his mother Keren Munder, 54, and his grandmother Ruti, 78, were kidnapped when they came to Kibbutz Nir Oz from Kfar Saba to visit their family for the Simchat Torah Shabbat. Ruti’s husband Avraham, remains in Gaza. Ohad turned nine while held in the Strip.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) November 24, 2023
Yaffa Adar, 85, was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Video surfaced of Adar being driven in a golf cart in Gaza, wrapped in a pink-flowered blanket and looking stoic — in an image that became one of the symbols of the October 7 catastrophe, the terrorists’ readiness to harm anyone regardless of age, and the courage of the victims.
Adina Moshe, 72, was kidnapped from her home in Nir Oz on October 7. Her husband Sa’id was murdered. Adina Moshe was seen in images from that day seated on a motorcycle between two terrorists, in Gaza.
Margalit Moses, 78, was also seen in footage being kidnapped from her home in Nir Oz.
Hanna Katzir, 77, was kidnapped from Nir Oz. Her husband Rami was murdered and her son Avraham is believed held hostage in Gaza. Last month, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said she had died in captivity in a gruesome example of psychological warfare. Katzir’s release indicated that there is cooperation between Hamas and other terror groups who took Israelis hostage, and that separate negotiations might not be required to release all of them.
Channah Peri, 79, was kidnapped from Nirim. Her son, Nadav Popplewell, is still held in Gaza.
The first set of hostages released on Friday afternoon were 10 Thai nationals and a Filipino who were also kidnapped to Gaza on October 7, and were freed as part of a separate agreement which Egypt said it negotiated, reportedly also with the involvement of Qatar and Iran.
The released Thai hostages were not immediately named. Thailand has said it believes 26 of its citizens were taken hostage that day, and at least 32 Thai nationals were killed in the massacres.
The released Filipino was named as Gelienor “Jimmy” Leano Pacheco, 33, a caregiver and father of three, who was taken hostage to Gaza by Hamas terrorists who attacked Kibbutz Nir Oz, the Moked Hotline for Refugees and Migrants announced.
Pacheco cared for Amitai Ben Zvi, 80 — on October 7 he managed to call and tell his friends that he was being kidnapped and Amitai, or Abba, as he called him, had been killed.
The Israeli hostages were handed over by the terrorists to representatives of the International Red Cross at a hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, before they were taken to the Rafah crossing with Egypt and handed over to Israel.
The military assigned a single soldier to accompany each child or family from Egypt. Soldiers were instructed to identify themselves and speak reassuringly to the children, but at the same time not hold their hand or carry them unless they agreed. Should those actions be necessary, the soldier was told to explain exactly what they were doing and why.
As a general instruction for the operation over the coming days, soldiers were told to avoid answering any questions by released children about the whereabouts of their parents or other relatives — some of whom were murdered on October 7 while others remain hostage in Gaza.
The military prepared psychologists and mental health experts to greet the hostages. The experts will gradually explain to them what happened in their communities on October 7, when they believe the time is right.
The Health Ministry has set up strict protocols for the treatment of the released hostages.
Schneider children’s hospital has recommended that the hostages remain at least 48 hours under observation before being released home.
The same process will be carried out over the next four days for the remaining hostages who are to be released from Hamas captivity.
Some 50 hostages — children, their mothers and other women — are set to be freed over the four days, during which the IDF is halting its military campaign to destroy Hamas in Gaza, with three Palestinian security prisoners to be freed in exchange for each hostage.
The four-day truce can potentially be extended for one extra day for each group of 10 more hostages freed by Hamas.
The IDF in a statement asked the public to “show patience and sensitivity and respect the privacy of released hostages and their families” and not to circulate unverified information.
Twelve of the 13 Israelis released on Friday were kidnapped from Nir Oz, a community of about 400 people situated three kilometers from the Gaza border. The kibbutz lost almost half of its population during Hamas’s shock attack. Over 100 residents and some 15 foreign agricultural workers were killed during the onslaught, and about 80 more were taken captive, according to a military spokesperson.
The released hostages are only a small group out of the some 240 held by Gaza terrorists since October 7, when 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists slaughtered 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians amid unimaginable acts of brutality.
According to Channel 12 news, there was a delay in the handing over by Hamas of the list of names of the 10-13 Israelis expected to be released on Saturday.
Amy Spiro, Jessica Steinberg, Tal Schneider and Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.