Thirteen Israeli hostages who were held captive by Hamas for seven weeks have been freed, bringing an end to their nightmare ordeal. The release came after a four-day ceasefire, brokered by Qatar, was signed between the warring parties. The hostages, including nine women and four children, were handed over to the Red Cross at the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza.
Among the freed hostages was Channah Peri, 79, whose British son Nadav Popplewell, 51, is still being held captive. The others released were Doron Katz Asher, 34, along with her daughters Aviv Asher, two; Raz Asher, four; Daniele Aloni, 44; and Emilia Aloni, six; Ruth Munder, 78, her daughter Keren, 54, and grandson Ohad, nine. The final four were Adina Moshe, 72, Margalit Moses, 78, Chana Katzir, 76, and Yafa Adar, 85.
In a psychological ploy, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, affiliated with Hamas, falsely claimed that Mrs. Katzir had died. At the same time, Mrs. Moshe was seen being driven to Gaza on a motorbike. The Israeli operation, known as Heaven’s Door, led to the release of 39 Palestinian prisoners, mainly women and children under 18, who had been convicted for rioting in the West Bank.
Ahead of the release, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to continue avenging the lives lost. He stated that there would be a short pause before the military operations would resume with full force. The ultimate goal is to bring an end to Hamas and ensure the safe return of the hostages to Israel. As part of the ceasefire, Hamas also released one Filipino and ten Thai nationals who were being held captive.
The release of the hostages was witnessed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from a bunker in Tel Aviv.
Following their release, the 13 hostages were taken near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, then to the border, and eventually driven into Egypt before being flown to Israeli hospitals via helicopters. Among the Palestinians freed was Asraa Jabas, who had been sentenced to 11 years in prison for a failed suicide bombing near Jerusalem in 2015. Jabas caused controversy by demanding that Israel pay for her plastic surgery.
Intelligence officials will debrief the released hostages to gather information about the whereabouts of those still being held captive. The freed hostages have undergone medical evaluations and will be reunited with their families after receiving necessary care.
The conflict in Gaza has resulted in a significant loss of life, with nearly 15,000 people, including 6,150 children, killed. The Palestinian health system has been severely strained, making it challenging to provide an accurate count of the dead.