Mixed emotions for Israeli families as Hamas releases some members while holding others

Gaza hostage deal brings joy to some, but angst to others as they await return of loved ones

Six year-old Amelia receives a hug as she and her mother Daniel Aloni meet relatives after being released from captivity in Gaza. Reuters
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Israeli hostages held by Hamas were fed bread and water, made to sleep on benches and were cut off from the rest of the world for the whole of their captivity, family members have revealed.

Speaking of the joy of having their loved ones back home safe after about 50 days in captivity in Gaza, some families said the freed hostages were seeking professional help as they will take a long time to recover from their ordeal.

Merav Mor Raviv said her cousin Keren Munder, 54, lost about "six to eight kilos" in captivity.

"She told me they ate a lot of fries and bread," Ms Raviv said during a virtual interaction with the media on Sunday.

"They had to knock on a door to use the bathroom and sometimes waited for up to one and a half hours."

Reporters were not allowed to ask questions about the conditions in which the hostages were held or their physical and emotional well-being.

Ms Raviv said her family members had been sleeping on "benches in a reception room" but said she did not know whether they were kept in underground tunnels, which the Israeli army has been bombing as part of the military campaign in the besieged enclave.

Ms Munder, 54, her son Ohad, nine, and his grandmother Ruthy, 78, were among the first batch of hostages released by Hamas under a Qatar-negotiated four-day truce that began on Friday.

Ohad's grandfather Avraham Munder is still in custody in Gaza.

The first exchange on Friday involved the release of 13 Israeli hostages, as well as 10 Thai citizens and one Filipino, who were seized by Hamas on October 7. In exchange, Israel released 39 Palestinian detainees – 24 women and 15 children.

Hamas released another group of hostages – 13 Israelis and four Thai citizens – from Gaza on Saturday, after several hours of delay, in exchange of 39 Palestinian detainees from Israeli jails.

Speaking about the impact of captivity on Ohad, who turned nine while in Gaza, Ms Munder said he was "very happy" to return home.

"He is a smart and sensitive boy. He does not understand that he has become famous all over the world," she said.

"He was talking and laughing like normal kids. He is lucky that his father and mother are alive and he has a home to return to. Many children do not have that."

Ohad and his mother were kidnapped while visiting their grandparents in Kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the communities that bore the worst brunt of the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Released hostages were taken to hospital by Israeli authorities for check-ups.

Prof Itai Pessach, director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital at Sheba Medical Centre, said the hostages were in decent health.

"I am happy to report that despite the long period that the hostages spent in the hands of Hamas, none are in need of urgent medical care. We are treating both their physical and emotional needs," Prof Pessach said in a statement.

'This means the world'

Adva Adar, granddaughter of Yaffa Adar, 85, said she "could not stop crying" when her grandmother, one of the oldest hostages that Hamas had captured, safely returned home.

A video of Yaffa, who has mobility issues as well as other health conditions, being carried off by Hamas on a golf cart went viral after the October 7 attacks.

"This means the world to us to see her with us again. I am so proud of her. She is an amazing, tough woman ... the way she survived this," said Adva.

However, Adva said Ms Adar has a long road to recovery after her house was completely destroyed.

"At her age, she should have a home and all the comforts. But she has nothing. She has to start over. It is tough for her," said Adva.

Yaffa has three children, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren who all survived the attack.

"She thought all her family members were dead. She spoke to them over the phone and is happy."

Other Israeli families said they were grateful their loved ones have been released but their hearts were heavy as several family members remain in Hamas captivity.

Daniel Aloni and her six-year-old daughter Emilia were among the first group released.

But Daniel’s sister, Sharon Aloni Cunio, along with Sharon's three-year-old twins Emma and Yuli and their father David Cunio remain in Gaza.

Daniel and Emilia were in Kibbutz Nir Oz visiting her sister’s family for the holidays when they were abducted by Hamas.

"We are happy, so happy to get the heart of our family back, Daniel and Emilia," Daniel’s brother Moran said. "One stone is now removed from our heart but there are still missing parts of it.”

In a video released by the Aloni family, he said: "I hope that we'll see my sister Sharon, and her daughters Emma and Yuli, and her husband, my brother in law, David, as soon as possible".

Remaining hostages

Maya Regev and her brother Itay were at the Re’im music festival when they were kidnapped by Hamas gunmen.

The 21 year old was in the second group released late on Saturday, while her brother is still a hostage.

Their mother Mirit Regev said she was excited and happy to hug Maya but spoke of heartbreak that her son remained captive.

“My heart is split because my son Itay is still in Hamas's captivity in Gaza,” she said in a statement released by the family.

“We will not stop until Itay and all the hostages get back home."

The temporary truce is the first break in the relentless bombardment on Gaza that has been taking place since October 7.

Hamas is set to release 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian detainees that Israel will release, all of whom are women and children.

Emotional reunions as more Israeli hostages and Palestinian detainees released

Emotional reunions as more Israeli hostages and Palestinian detainees released
Updated: November 26, 2023, 9:16 PM