Unveiling the identities of the released Hamas hostages, the hostages abducted by Hamas were released on both Friday and Saturday in the initial phase of a negotiated exchange facilitated by Qatar and Egypt, with the support of the U.S. On Friday, Israel released Palestinian prisoners, and further releases were expected on Saturday.
The exchange, facilitated during an expected four-day cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, is set to encompass a total of 50 hostages held by Hamas and 150 incarcerated Palestinians.
On Saturday, the 13 Israeli hostages who were abducted by Hamas were accompanied by four Thai foreign nationals released by Hamas. The group, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the Rafah Border Crossing, did not include any Americans.
Among the released individuals were Noam Or (17), Alma Or (13), Shiri Weiss (53), Noga Weiss (18), Sharon Hertzman Avigdori (52), Noam Avigdori (12), Shoshan Haran (67), Adi Shoham (38), Nave Shoham (8), Yahel Shoham (3), Hila Rotem Shoshani (13), Emily Toni Kornberg Hand (9), and Maya Regev Jarbi (21).
Hamas released twelve Thai nationals on Friday, as confirmed by Thailand's prime minister. Also, Israel released up to 39 Palestinian prisoners on the same day.
There will be a total of 50 hostages held by Hamas and 150 Palestinian prisoners exchanged during the anticipated four-day ceasefire in hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
Several of the hostages were from Kibbutz Be'eri, which had suffered a devastating Hamas massacre on October 7. The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, along with Kibbutz Be'eri, issued a joint statement regarding the return of the captives.
"Kibbutz Bee’ri and Families Forum are happy to share the news about the return of some of the abductees," the statement read. "At the same time, three children from two families from Kibbutz Be’eri were torn from their only parent today."
"Hamas grossly violated the agreement and separated a mother from her family. Hila returns home without her mother, a mother who was left behind in the captivity of Hamas," the statement added.
Chairperson of Kibbutz Be’eri Amir Solvi said that Saturday was "a bittersweet day, one of great joy but also marked with sadness."
We continue to call upon the government to fulfill its two goals of the war: returning all the abductees home - down to the last one, and neutralizing the threat of Hamas, the terrorist entity.- Be’eri Amir Solvi
Negotiators involved in the release process acknowledged a delay on Saturday, adding a level of uncertainty to the overall agreement. Hamas attributed the delay to the influx of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, while Israeli officials countered, stating that hundreds of aid-carrying trucks had already arrived.
A released Hamas hostage reuniting with his family
On October 7, Hamas abducted approximately 240 individuals from farming communities, military bases, and a music festival in southern Israel, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 people. Israeli authorities report 33 child hostages among them.
Hamas had previously released four captives, including a mother and daughter with dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, Judith Raanan (59) and Natalie Raanan (17), on October 20 for "humanitarian reasons." Additionally, Israeli women Nurit Cooper (79) and Yocheved Lifshitz (85) were released three days later.
The Israeli military recovered the bodies of two hostages earlier this month, identified as Yehudit Weiss (65) and Noa Marciano (19), a female soldier. Another female soldier, Ori Megidish (19), was successfully rescued by Israeli forces in Gaza on October 30.
Numerous hostages, many of whom are Israeli citizens, are involved in the current situation. More than half, according to Israel's government, hold dual citizenship with countries such as Argentina, Britain, Chile, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, and the U.S.
Among the hostages are at least nine Americans, including preschoolers, individuals with disabilities, the elderly, Thai farm workers, and Israeli soldiers. One of the American hostages is a three-year-old girl whose parents were killed by Hamas in their home at the Kfar Aza kibbutz in southern Israel, located on the border with Gaza.
"I will be overjoyed for those families who can be reunited with their loved ones," said American Jonathan Dekel-Chen, 60, in a brief interview late Thursday. His son, Sagui, 35, isn't expected to be released soon.
He portrayed his son as an entrepreneur with a unique side project of repurposing old buses for innovative purposes. Describing him as "the kind of son anyone would cherish," he emphasized that meeting him is bound to bring a smile. The son is characterized as endlessly positive, a builder, and a creator, qualities he has embodied throughout his entire life.
A little boy released by Hamas reuniting with a family member
Israel's justice ministry has released a roster containing the names of 300 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons, eligible for participation in the initial exchange or potential future ones if the initial four-day truce period is extended.
Among the listed individuals, 123 are minors below the age of 18, with five of them being 14 years old. The imprisoned Palestinians are charged with offenses ranging from hurling firebombs to arson, with Israel adamant about not releasing prisoners convicted of murder.
One of the named individuals is Samed Khaled Abu Khalaf, a 17-year-old Palestinian mentioned in the justice ministry document. According to the document, he was arrested in April for "damage to the security of the area." His father, Khaled, 51, confirmed his son's detention seven months ago in a brief WhatsApp message on Friday. The family resides in a village in the eastern part of the West Bank.
Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer reports that Israel holds around 200 boys, mostly teenagers, in detention, along with several teenage girls. International and Palestinian human rights organizations have consistently raised concerns about the alleged mistreatment of child detainees by Israel, prosecuting them in military courts and detaining them indefinitely, citing suspected terror-related offenses.
Khaled Mahmoud Abu Khalaf expressed on Friday that he was eagerly awaiting a call from the International Committee of the Red Cross to learn whether his son would be released. The group is actively involved in facilitating releases on both sides. "Today, God willing," he stated.
Limited information about the specific conditions faced by the hostages is currently available to the public. As more hostages are released, a more comprehensive picture is expected to emerge.
Both Israel and Hamas claim that captives are being held in tunnels beneath Gaza. Israel's military asserts evidence indicating that some hostages have been held at or near hospitals, a claim disputed by Hamas.
In a recent development, Mirjana Spoljaric, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, traveled to Qatar to meet with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh concerning the well-being of the captives. The Red Cross continues to insist on the access of their teams to visit the hostages, ensuring their welfare, delivering medications, and facilitating communication with their families.
An 85-year-old woman, Lifshitz, who was released after being held for 17 days, shared that she was beaten during her abduction by Hamas captors on a motorcycle. She described being taken through a network of subterranean tunnels, known passages where Hamas conceals fighters and weapons.
"I went through hell," Lifshitz told reporters the day after her release, at a Tel Aviv hospital.
On the day of her kidnapping, Lifshitz reported being repeatedly struck in the ribs, making it difficult for her to breathe. She was then transported through fields to a network of tunnels, where she was kept in a large hall. According to Lifshitz, her captors treated her and others gently, fulfilling their needs, including providing food and medicine. She mentioned that she and her fellow captives slept on mattresses on the tunnel floors.
In a video released by Hamas last month, Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman seized during the music festival onslaught, is shown being treated by an unidentified medical worker for an arm injury sustained in the attack. Schem requests to be reunited with her family. Another video released by Hamas in the same month features three women hostages denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel contends that both videos are examples of Hamas's "cruel propaganda."