Israeli families reunited seven weeks after Hamas kidnapped hostages

Yoni Asher’s wife and two daughters were among 13 Israelis released by Hamas on Friday

Two-year-old Aviv Asher and her four-year-old sister Raz are embraced by their mother Doron and father Yoni at the Schneider Children's Medical Centre in Israel. Reuters
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Yoni Asher sits on a hospital bed, his right arm holding tightly to his daughter Raz, his left arm wrapped around his wife Doron, who is holding their youngest daughter Aviv.

It’s an embrace Mr Asher has waited 50 days for.

Raz, four, and Aviv, two, were kidnapped along with their mother Doron by Hamas on October 7 from their grandmother’s home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, in southern Israel and taken to the Gaza Strip.

On Friday, they were among the 13 Israeli hostages freed by the militant group. Their release is part of Hamas's deal with Israel that will see the country release 150 Palestinians held in jail, during a four-day temporary pause in fighting, in exchange for 50 Israeli hostages.

“My family – Doron, Raz, and Aviv have returned home from captivity,” Mr Asher said in a statement released by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. “I am determined to help my family recover from the terrible trauma and loss we went through, for my daughters and my wife’s future.”

In the video the family shared, Mr Asher can be seen lovingly talking into Raz’s ear as she holds a white stuffed animal.

It’s a moment the entire country has been waiting for.

Over the past seven weeks, families of the hostages and their supporters have taken to the streets in significant numbers to pressure Benjamin Netanyahu’s government into doing more to get their loved ones home.

Every day hundreds of people descend on the courtyard outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where shrines to the missing have been set up.

On Friday night and early Saturday morning there was a sense of profound relief among the crowd that the deal had held long enough to get the first 13 hostages home.

“We feel good because it's the beginning and we hope they will release all the rest of the people,” Roni Eliahu said.

But there is also deep concern about the remaining hostages.

“What about the rest,” one woman said. “And then there's tomorrow and the next day, and then they'll get up to 50 but then what about the other 190?”

Mr Asher echoed a similar sentiment in his statement.

“I want to ensure that each and every hostage returns home,” he said. “The families of hostages are not posters, they are not slogans, they are real people.

“From today, the families of the hostages are my new family, and I will do everything to ensure the last hostage returns home safely.”

Updated: November 26, 2023, 8:25 AM