Eight Israeli hostages were released from Hamas captivity Thursday, the seventh group freed by the terror group under a temporary truce agreement with Israel.
Two women, Mia Schem, 21, and Amit Soussana, 40, were freed in the late afternoon, while six others returned to Israel shortly before midnight.
The delay in releasing the six once again led to a nerve-wracking wait for their families.
Hamas had indicated earlier it could also free an additional two Russian-Israeli citizens, as it has done in previous days as a gesture to Moscow, but did not ultimately do so. Instead, it appeared to calculate, and Israel to accept, that two Russian-Israelis freed on Wednesday would count toward the 10-hostage daily minimum agreed in the truce deal.
At the same time, it remained unclear whether the temporary truce with Hamas, coupled with the release of further hostages, would be extended to another day.
Hamas had also previously said it would return three bodies of Israelis on Thursday, but there was no indication that it had done so.
Thursday’s release of two teens meant that all but two of the hostage Israelis in the child category had been returned from Gaza: the two young boys of the Bibas family, four-year-old Ariel and 10-month-old Kfir. The pair were taken hostage with their mother Shiri, 32; father Yarden was also abducted, but separately.
In a statement Wednesday, Hamas claimed the three had been killed. Israel says it is investigating the claim. Hamas on Thursday released a propaganda video appearing to show Yarden alive and relating to the rest of his family. IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari described the video as “psychological terror.”
Thursday’s hostage releases came after a deal to extend the ongoing truce was reached early Thursday morning, just ahead of a 7 a.m. deadline for it to expire. The agreement was made after Israel reportedly rejected an early list of hostages sent by Hamas which it deemed unacceptable.
The same situation appeared to be repeating itself Thursday night, with the sides widely reported to be disagreeing over who would be released in a potential eighth group. Israel has insisted Hamas must free more women it is holding in the next release.
The military warned Thursday evening that it was prepared to resume Israel’s offensive at a moment’s notice. Hagari said: “We are prepared to attack at any hour, tonight as well.”
Israel has insisted Hamas release all children and civilian women held hostage by the terror group within the framework of the current truce deal. Hamas-led terrorists took about 240 hostages of all ages during the October 7 shock assault when it massacred some 1,200 people in southern Israel.
The temporary ceasefire agreement has so far seen 105 civilians released from Hamas captivity in Gaza: 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and 1 Filipino.
Israel estimates that about 137 hostages are now being held in Gaza and insists the terror group release all remaining civilian women and children hostages before additional agreements are considered.
Overnight Thursday, Israel released 30 additional Palestinian security prisoners, the Prison Services said. This brings the total number released under the deal to 210, all of them women or minors.
The hostages released Thursday included:
Schem could be seen in the video being treated after she was wounded in her arm, and later speaking to the camera. Her mother, Keren Schem, welcomed the sign of life and begged for her daughter to be freed: “I see that she’s very terrified, in a lot of pain, and I can see that she’s saying what they’re telling her to say.” Her family said they believe she was shot in the shoulder before being taken hostage.
Schem’s aunt said Thursday that a Palestinian veterinarian had operated on her arm while she was held hostage. “She underwent trauma. She’s thin, she’s weak,” Vivian Hadar told reporters. “She did physical therapy for herself.”
“We’re happy she’s with us. It’s really tough to see her like this,” Hadar added.
Also freed was Amit Soussana, 40, from Kfar Aza, a lawyer who was home sick with a fever when she was abducted.
She texted her family on October 7 that there were terrorists “outside my window… it’s scary, it doesn’t seem real.” Around 10 a.m. she told them she was going to hide in a closet and that her cellphone battery was about to run out — the last they heard from her.
The only minors freed on Thursday were siblings Aisha Ziyadne, 17, and Bilal Ziyadne, 18, members of a Bedouin family from Rahat who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Holit while Bilal was working in a cowshed there, less than a mile away from the Gaza Strip.
Their father Youssef, 53, and brother Hamza, 23, were taken captive alongside them and are still held hostage in Gaza. Youssef has 18 total children with his two wives and 20 grandchildren, and is the primary breadwinner.
Bilal and Aisha are the first Arab Israelis to be released since October 7; at least five are believed to remain in Gaza.
Sapir Cohen, 29, was also freed on Thursday, a day after Yelena Trufanova and Irena Tati — the mother and grandmother of her boyfriend, Sasha Trufanov, who is believed to be a hostage — were released. The four were taken captive together from Nir Oz on October 7, as Sasha’s father, Vitaly, was murdered.
Trufanova and Tati, both natives of Russia who have lived in Israel for decades — were freed outside the framework of the ongoing truce deal, as a “gesture” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Hamas on Wednesday. Earlier this week, Russian-Israeli hostage Roni Krivoi was also freed under the same terms. But since only 8 Israelis were freed on Thursday, Trupanov and Tati were retroactively included in the needed daily tally of 10.
Also freed Thursday was 30-year-old Ilana Gritzewsky, a dual Mexican-Israeli citizen who was taken hostage from Nir Oz along with her boyfriend, Matan Zangauker, 24, who is still held captive.
Gritzewsky made aliyah from Mexico 14 years ago, on the Naale program, and her parents and sister later immigrated to Israel.
Shani Goren, 29, was also kidnapped from Nir Oz on October 7, and returned to Israel on Thursday night. Eyewitnesses said she was loaded onto a trailer with two other families from the kibbutz on October 7.
Goren, a teacher and youth counselor, was grabbed alone from her bed inside her safe room, her mother Tamar Goren said. Freed hostage Eitan Yahalomi, 12 — who was kidnapped from the same kibbutz, as was his father, Ohad, who remains hostage — said after his release that after a couple of weeks in captivity, he was brought together with Goren, who had previously been his counselor, and she cared for him until he was freed.
Also from Nir Oz, 40-year-old Nili Margalit, a nurse at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, was returned to Israel with the latest group of released hostages.
When former hostage Yocheved Lifshitz was released on October 23, she reported that Margalit had been held captive with her, and was working as a nurse, caring for people, “just like she always does,” said one of Margalit’s friends in a Kan video.
Agencies contributed to this report.