Amid negotiations for a potential Israel-Hamas deal for the release of more hostages from Gaza, the Health Ministry has issued updated guidelines for their treatment upon return to Israel.
The ministry’s protocols, published on Thursday, have been updated and improved based on the treatment and experiences of hostages released during a pause in fighting in late November.
According to some reports, the deal outline currently under negotiation offers the possibility of a six-week (or more) pause in fighting and the release of all 136 hostages still in Gaza, not all of whom are alive. Other reports have said the framework provides for the release of only 35 hostages — women, the elderly and the sick — during a 35-day initial truce, with the potential for another week’s pause in fighting during which negotiations could be held on further releases. Still other reports have cited different terms in the proposal.
The protocol updates are the results of joint consultations of representatives from the Health Ministry, hospitals, community health systems, sexual assault organizations, the police and the army.
They include a recommended minimum of four-day stays in hospitals’ special areas for returned hostages, where all physical and psycho-social testing and care can be provided. The tests would also include those for infectious diseases.
Hostages who have been released have testified that those being held are being subjected to regular sexual abuse and torture.
The World Health Organization has warned of a heightened risk of disease outbreaks in Gaza because of overcrowded shelters and a lack of food, water, sanitation and medication. The United Nations estimates that more than 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced as a result of Israel’s intensive military campaign, sparked by the Hamas terror group’s deadly October 7 massacres.
The four-day hospitalization period also allows sufficient time for planning for ongoing individualized care in the community. Each returned hostage would be assigned a nurse who would support them on an ongoing basis, as well as a social worker who would help them with interfacing with the social insurance system.
The protection of the returned hostages’ privacy would be upgraded in terms of guarding against access to their medical information. Access to the returnees by the media would be curtailed and only designated medical staff, relevant security apparatus personnel and family members would be allowed access.
Medical staff at the hospitals where the newly released hostages would be brought are undergoing additional training on treating cases of sexual abuse and torture, only with the permission of the victim.
It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during the weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops.
The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.
Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The hostages were taken captive during Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid horrific acts of brutality. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival.