UPDATE 3-Mixed emotions as first group of Israeli hostages return from Gaza
The rest of a group of at least 50 Israeli hostages due to be exchanged under a Qatari-brokered agreement are expected to be freed in the coming days and more hostages could be added if the truce deal is extended. In exchange, 39 Palestinian women and minors detained by Israel were released on Friday, the first of a group of 150 who are due to be freed from Israeli detention under the agreement.
The first group of Israelis freed from captivity in Gaza on Friday returned to Israel on the first day of a planned four-day truce during which further exchanges of hostages for Palestinian detainees are due to take place. The 13 released included four small children and their mothers as well as five elderly women. They were among around 240 people abducted by gunmen from the Islamist movement Hamas who rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7.
"Children, their mothers and other women. Every one of them is a world in themselves," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "But I stress to you, the families, and to you, citizens of Israel: We are committed to bringing back all our hostages." As well as the Israeli hostages, 10 Thais and one Filipino, who were taken captive at the same time, were also freed under a separate agreement, Qatari mediators said.
After the released hostages underwent initial medical checks and were taken to be reunited with their families, medical authorities said they appeared to be in good physical condition and were undergoing more evaluations. Roni Haviv, a relative of Ohad Munder, said she was looking forward to giving the nine-year-old his favourite toy.
"I'm waiting to see Ohad and can't wait to give him his Rubik's Cube, which I know he really loved and he probably missed it so much and that's the first thing he takes everywhere he goes," she told Reuters. The rest of a group of at least 50 Israeli hostages due to be exchanged under a Qatari-brokered agreement are expected to be freed in the coming days and more hostages could be added if the truce deal is extended.
In exchange, 39 Palestinian women and minors detained by Israel were released on Friday, the first of a group of 150 who are due to be freed from Israeli detention under the agreement. MIXED EMOTIONS
For the families of the hostages, there was happiness mingled with concern for those who remained in Gaza. "I am happy I received my family back, it's allowed to feel joy and it's allowed to shed a tear. That's a human thing," said Yoni Katz Asher, whose wife Doron and children Raz and Aviv were freed on Friday. "But I am not celebrating, I will not celebrate until the last of the hostages returns home."
Israeli leaders have sworn to free the rest of the hostages as the military pursues an invasion of Gaza launched in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which killed around 1,200 people, according to an Israeli tally. The military campaign has killed around 14,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian medical authorities and reduced much of Gaza to rubble.
For the moment, the hostages are being kept away from the media while their condition is assessed and for those whose relatives have not come home, the wait continues in a conflicting swirl of feelings. "The emotions are mixed emotions," said Shelly Shem Tov, the mother Omer Shem Tov, 21, who had attended an outdoor dance festival that was targeted in the attack, and was among those taken hostage. He was not among those released on Friday.
"I'm excited for the families who today are going to hug their loved ones. I am jealous. And I am sad. Mostly sad that Omer is still not coming home," she said in an interview with Israel's Channel 12. (Additional reporting by Henriette Chacar and Eli Berlzon; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis)
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