‘I went through hell’: What we know about the Hamas hostages released from Gaza

Hostages abducted by Hamas were freed on Friday and Saturday as part of the first phase of an exchange deal brokered by Qatar and Egypt with help from the U.S. Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were released as part of the deal on Friday and more were expected to be released on Saturday.

The swap, facilitated by an anticipated four-day pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, is expected see a total of 50 hostages taken by Hamas and 150 imprisoned Palestinians, set free.

Yocheved Lifshitz speaks to the media outside Ichilov Hospital after she was released by Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 24, 2023.

Most are women and children. No Americans were part of the first two tranches of releases.

During the pause, additional humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip is being allowed to cross the border from Egypt.

Here is what we know about the hostages.

How many hostages were released Friday, Saturday and who are they?

Thirteen Israeli women and children were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza on Friday. They then traveled to Israel via Egypt. Officials in Israel said another 13 Israelis were released Saturday.

Twelve Thai nationals were released by Hamas on Friday, according to Thailand’s prime minister. Israeli officials said another four abductees with Thai citizenship were released on Saturday.

Up to 39 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel on Friday.

Was there a delay in the release of hostages on Saturday?

Officials involved in negotiating for the releases acknowledged Saturday that there was a delay, a development that threw a degree of uncertainty into the underlying agreement.

Hamas said the delay was due to humanitarian aid flowing into the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials said that hundreds of trucks carrying aid had arrived.

How many hostages are there?

Hamas abducted roughly 240 people from farming communities, military bases and a music festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7, when it also killed about 1,200 people. Israeli authorities say there are 33 child hostages.

Hamas previously released four captives. Two were a mother and daughter, with dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship: Judith Raanan, 59, and Natalie Raanan, 17. Their release, for “humanitarian reasons,” took place on Oct. 20. Two Israeli women, Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, were released three days later.

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Israel’s military says the body of two hostages were recovered earlier this month. One of them was Yehudit Weiss, 65; the other was Noa Marciano, a 19-year-old female solider.

Ori Megidish, a female soldier, 19, was rescued by Israeli forces in Gaza on Oct. 30.

Who are the Hamas hostages?

Many are Israeli citizens. And many − more than half − according to Israel’s government, hold dual citizenship with other countries including Argentina, Britain, Chile, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Thailand and the U.S.

At least nine Americans are missing and believed to be hostages in Gaza.

The hostages include preschoolers, people with disabilities, the elderly, Thai farm workers and Israeli soldiers.

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One of the American hostages is a three-year-old girl who parents were killed by Hamas in their home at the Kfar Aza kibbutz in southern Israel. This kibbutz is on the border with Gaza.

“I will be overjoyed for those families who can be reunited with their loved ones,” said American Jonathan Dekel-Chen, 60, in a brief interview late Thursday. His son, Sagui, 35, isn’t expected to be released soon.

He described his son, an entrepreneur whose “moonlighting gig is repurposing old buses for new uses,” as “the son anyone would love to have. You can’t meet him and not smile. He’s endlessly positive. He’s a builder. He’s a creator. He’s been that his entire life.”

Who are the Palestinians Hamas wants released?

Israel’s justice ministry has published a list of names with 300 Palestinians on it held in Israeli prisons eligible to be part of the initial exchange or future ones if the initial four-day-truce period is extended.

The list includes 123 minors under the age of 18. Five names on the list are 14 years old. The Palestinians named on the list have been imprisoned for offenses ranging from hurling firebombs to arson. Israel is refusing to release any prisoners who have been convicted of murder.

Palestinian teenager Samed Khaled Abu Khalaf, 17, is on the justice ministry document, which says he was arrested in April for “damage to the security of the area.”

His father, Khaled, 51, said in a brief WhatsApp message Friday that his son was detained by Israel seven months ago. The family live in a village in the eastern part of the West Bank.

Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer says that Israel has about 200 boys, most of them teenagers, in detention, as well as several teenage girls. International and Palestinian human rights organizations have long alleged that Israel mistreats its child detainees, who it prosecutes in military courts and holds for indefinite periods of time. Israel says they are detained for suspected terror-related offenses.

Khaled Mahmoud Abu Khalaf said early Friday he was waiting to get a call from the the International Committee of the Red Cross to hear whether his son will be freed. The group is helping to facilitate releases on both sides.

“Today, God willing,” he said.

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What are the conditions for hostages in Gaza?

Not a lot of public detail about the specific conditions hostages are facing is available.

As more hostages are released, a fuller picture will emerge.

Both Israel and Hamas say captives are being held in tunnels underneath Gaza. Israel’s military says it has evidence that some hostages have been held at or near hospitals. Hamas appears to dispute this.

Earlier this week, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, traveled to Qatar to meet with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh about the welfare of the captives.

Of the meeting, The Red Cross said it continued to insist “our teams be allowed to visit the hostages to check on their welfare and deliver medications, and for the hostages to be able to communicate with their families.”

Lifshitz, the 85-year-old woman who was released after being held 17 days, said she was beaten while her Hamas captors abducted her on the back of a motorcycle. She said she was then taken through a “spider web” of subterranean tunnels − passages where Hamas hides its fighters and weapons.

“I went through hell,” Lifshitz told reporters the day after her release, at a Tel Aviv hospital.

Lifshitz said that on the day of her kidnapping she was repeatedly struck in the ribs, making it hard for her to breathe. She was then driven through fields to a network of tunnels. She said she was kept in a large hall and that once there, her captors “treated us gently and fulfilled all of our needs,” including providing food and medicine.

Lifshitz said that she and other captors slept on mattresses on the floors of the tunnels.

In a Hamas video released the middle of last month, Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman seized by the group during its surprise onslaught at the music festival, is shown being treated by an unidentified medical worker for an injury to her arm sustained during the attack. Schem asks to be reunited with her family.

That same month, Hamas released a separate video of three women hostages denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel said both videos were evidence of Hamas’s “cruel propaganda.”

Staff writer John Fritze contributed to this report.


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