The 13 Israeli hostages freed on Friday after being abducted in the Hamas-led surprise attack last month have begun reuniting with their families, ending nearly seven weeks of uncertainty and fear over their fates in Gaza.
Yoni Asher, whose wife, Doron, and two daughters were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz, was reunited with them on Friday. In a video released by the Schneider children’s hospital on Saturday, Mr. Asher can be seen embracing his wife and children on a hospital bed.
“Did you miss me? Did you think about Dad?” Mr. Asher asked his daughters — Raz, 4, and Aviv, 2 — to which Doron murmurs: “All the time.”
A helicopter with released hostages at the landing pad of Schneider hospital in Petah Tikva, Israel, on Friday.Credit…Amit Elkayam for The New York Times
“I dreamed that we went home,” Raz said.
“Your dream came true,” Mr. Asher said with a smile. “We’re home, we’re going to our home soon.”
The 13 Israeli hostages that were released in Friday’s exchange were part of the first group of roughly 50 expected to be freed from captivity in Gaza over a four-day cease-fire, officials on both sides have said. At least 150 Palestinian prisoners and detainees are also to be released from Israeli jails as part of the deal.
The temporary cease-fire agreement was the most significant diplomatic breakthrough in the war since Hamas’s surprise attack on Oct. 7 left roughly 1,200 people dead in Israel and over 240 abducted to Gaza, including the elderly and young children. In response, Israel launched a campaign to topple Hamas in Gaza that has killed more than 12,700 people, many of them women and children, according to Gazan health officials.
In another video released by the hospital, Ohad Munder Zichri, 9, can be seen running down a hospital hallway into his father’s arms. His family also shared images of the bespectacled Ohad — who also was abducted from Nir Oz with his mother, Keren, and grandmother Ruth — playing with a Rubik’s Cube.
But for many families like Ohad’s — even for those whose loved ones were released — the joy at their liberation was mixed with profound sadness for the more than 200 others believed to still be in Gaza. Some families were split up, with women and children sent home as male relatives remained behind — including Abraham Munder, 78, Ohad’s grandfather.
“We’re happy, but we’re not celebrating. There are still other hostages in captivity,” Roy Zichri, Ohad’s brother, said in a video statement. “We need to keep up the struggle until all the hostages are freed — every last one,” he added.
Yaffa Adar, 85, had been captured in Nir Oz was taken on a scooter toward the Gaza Strip by her captors in one of the assault’s most iconic images. She was freed on Friday, while one of her eight grandchildren, Tamir, is still being held in Gaza, according to her family.
“One stone is now removed from our heart, but we are still missing parts of it,” said Moran Aloni, whose sister and niece were freed on Friday, but who still has several other relatives held hostage in Gaza.
Prof. Gilat Livni, who is overseeing the treatment of the returned child hostages at the Schneider children’s hospital, said the four Israeli children who had returned were “overall in generally good condition” despite the trauma they had been through.
“Both the mothers and the children are speaking, telling stories and sharing their experiences,” Professor Livni told reporters, calling it “astonishing and emotional.”
But the returned hostages now require a prolonged period of physical and mental rehabilitation, said Hagai Levine, a physician who is advising the families of hostages held captive in Gaza.
“It’s a long process of restoring a sense of trust, control, and functioning, after they were in a situation where they had no control over their fate,” said Dr. Levine, adding that many of the freed hostages had no home to which to return, complicating their recovery.
Before the temporary cease-fire, Hamas had freed four Israelis, citing “humanitarian reasons.” Dr. Levine met at least two of them: Judith Raanan, a dual Israeli-American citizen, and Yocheved Lifshitz.
“I was impressed by their ability not only to recover, but to offer help to other families,” Dr. Levine said. “But the process is long, and there’s definitely trauma” to be dealt with, he added.