Hostages Released by Hamas Have Returned to Israel, Israeli Military Says

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Margalit Mozes, a released Israeli hostage, walks with an Israeli soldier shortly after her arrival in Israel, Nov. 24, 2023.

In a significant development under the ongoing cease-fire agreement, Hamas militants on Saturday released 17 hostages, including 13 Israelis, back to Israel, as confirmed by the Israeli military. This move comes amidst a fragile truce that has temporarily halted the war, bringing a momentary pause to the violence that has caused extensive destruction and loss of life in the region.

The hostages, comprising seven children and six women from the Israeli side, were mostly from Kibbutz Be’eri, a community deeply impacted by the violence that began with a cross-border attack by Hamas militants on October 7. The children’s ages ranged from 3 to 16, and the women from 18 to 67. Alongside them, four Thais were also released, though earlier reports from Hamas’ armed wing had mentioned seven foreigners. The discrepancy in numbers has not been clarified.

This image composite shows the names of the Israeli hostages released on Nov. 25, 2023 by Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s office embraced the return of the hostages, stating, “The government embraces the 17 hostages that are returning home, 13 of our citizens and 4 Thai citizens.” The Israeli hostages were immediately taken to hospitals for observation and reunification with their families.

The exchange, part of a cease-fire deal brokered by Qatar and the United States, is the latest in a series of swaps. Under the agreement, Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, while Israel is to free 150 Palestinian prisoners. The released Palestinian prisoners included 33 children and six women, as per a Qatari spokesperson. Among them was Israa Jaabis, convicted in a 2015 bombing that wounded an Israeli police officer.

Israeli soldiers carries two children released by Hamas

The Israeli military and the Shin Bet security service announced the successful exchange after initial delays. Hamas had accused Israel of violating the exchange agreement, a claim Israel denied. However, Qatari and Egyptian mediators resolved the issues, leading to the eventual release of the hostages.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, emphasizing the importance of the truce, stated, “We cannot leave Gaza and stop the war until we reach a situation in which we bring back all the hostages.” U.S. President Joe Biden also played a role, speaking with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and being briefed on the deal’s progress.

Asil al-Titi, center, a 23-year-old former prisoner from the occupied West Bank, sits between her two brothers on Nov. 25, 2023 at the family home in Balata refugee camp after her release from Israeli jail in exchange for hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.

The cease-fire has also allowed for a significant scale-up in humanitarian assistance in Gaza. According to the U.N., the pause has enabled the delivery of food, water, medicine, and crucial supplies, including fuel and cooking gas, to the war-torn region. This relief is crucial for the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, who have suffered immense losses and displacement due to the Israeli bombardment.

However, the joy of the hostages’ return is tempered by the devastation in Gaza and the ongoing plight of those still in captivity. The Israeli public has been particularly vocal, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv, expressing solidarity with the hostages and their families. Netanyahu has faced criticism for not doing enough to secure the hostages’ release.