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Relief and pain ripple across Israel after first hostages released

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A slim boy with dark hair and spectacles dashed down an Israeli hospital corridor towards a man in a checked shirt, who scooped him into a bear hug. After 49 days in captivity, including his birthday, nine-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri was finally back in his father’s arms. 

Along with his mother Keren and grandmother Ruti, Ohad was one of 13 Israelis freed by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Friday evening. The tender reunion between father and son swept across Israeli social media in a moment of respite for a nation gripped by its worst ever hostage crisis.

But that optimism is attenuated by anxiety as some 200 Israelis remain in captivity — including Ohad’s grandfather, 78-year-old Avraham.

Ohad Munder-Zichri was released from Gaza on Friday but his grandfather is still being held hostage © via REUTERS

Noam Alon, whose girlfriend Inbar Haiman was snatched after attending the Nova music festival, said he was happy to see 85-year-old Yaffa Adar reunited with her grandson.

“There are not a lot of moments we can smile, and to see her back with her grandson is something special,” he said at a press conference on Saturday. “And I want to have the same with Inbar, I want every family to have the same.”

He vowed to keep up the pressure for their release: “We are expecting to see everyone freed, we want our government to do everything to continue the deal.” 

Under a four-day truce brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US, Hamas has agreed to gradually release 50 women and children from captivity in Gaza, while Israel will free 150 Palestinians — mostly women, children and teenagers — from its prisons. 

On Friday, Hamas released 13 Israelis, 10 Thai nationals and one person from the Philippines. In exchange, Israel freed 39 jailed Palestinians, prompting scenes of jubilation in parts of the occupied West Bank. 

Released Palestinian prisoner Qusai Taqatqa hugs his mother
Released Palestinian prisoner Qusai Taqatqa hugs his mother © REUTERS

The pause in fighting, triggered by Hamas’ unprecedented attack in southern Israel last month that killed 1,200 people, has brought respite to the 2.3mn people living in the Gaza strip. At least 13,300 people have been killed in the intense Israeli bombardment, Palestinian health officials say, while 1.7mn have been forced to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis. 

The Israeli military has vowed to continue fighting after the ceasefire ends. The freeing of the first hostages “fills us with relief”, said IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari in a video posted on social media network X. But, he added, “Israel will dismantle Hamas by the end of this war”.

While the release of hostages has brought good news for some families, many others still do not know if their relatives have survived.

After the first group of detainees was released on Friday, Noam Peri said she had received word that her father, 85-year-old peace activist Haim, was alive. 

Hostages’ families watch news footage as the first batch of detainees were released on Friday night
Hostages’ families watch news footage as the first batch of detainees were released on Friday night © Getty Images

“It brings a lot of hope and yet [at the same time] we feel it’s very urgent to let them all out,” she said, adding that Haim depended on medication after suffering a heart attack some time ago. “We don’t know how much time they’re going to be able to hold on there.”

Nadav Rudaeff believes his 61-year-old father Lior is being held by Hamas but has had no proof that he is still alive.

“We are still here 50 days later, trying to convince and demand the communities in Israel and around the world to come forth and help us in bringing the pressure for everyone to be released,” he said.

“It’s very important and it cannot go silent until every last one of them is coming back.”

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