Thirteen Israeli hostages were released on Friday as part of a ceasefire deal, 49 days after Hamas terrorists kidnapped them and some 230 others during the Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 people in the northwestern Negev.
The hostages were being brought by representatives of the Red Cross from Gaza to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula through the Rafah border crossing before flying to Hatzerim Air Base near Beersheva in southern Israel.
The group, which consisted of women and children, was set to return home by Israel Air Force helicopter, which the military outfitted with special blue and pink noise-canceling headphones.
“We have a great privilege to be here at this significant moment,” Lt. Col. ‘Yud,’ commander of 118 Squadron, said ahead of the rescue flight. “Today marks the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel.”
After arriving at the air force base, the hostages were set to speak by phone with their families before being transferred to hospitals for medical examinations and monitoring. There, they will be reunited with loved ones.
The Health Ministry instructed physicians to carry out exams “sensitively” and document signs of torture, rape or other crimes.
The IDF spokesperson called on the Israeli public to show “patience and sensitivity” and to respect the privacy of the freed captives and their families.
Hamas released the hostages at around 4 p.m., just minutes before Shabbat began at sundown. Jerusalem subsequently freed 39 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails.
In a separate deal, Egypt announced that it had successfully negotiated the release of 12 Thai hostages who were abducted during Hamas’s Oct. 7 onslaught. Bangkok believes 26 of its citizens were taken to Gaza.
A four-day ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization went into effect at 7 a.m. on Friday.
As part of the deal approved by the Israeli Cabinet on Wednesday, Hamas will release 12 to 13 hostages each day of the four-day truce. The release of every additional 10 hostages will result in one additional day in the pause in combat.
The IDF will refrain from using surveillance drones in Gaza for six hours each day of the ceasefire. Israel will also allow fuel to enter the Strip during that time and dramatically increase the volume of goods permitted into the enclave.
Israel also agreed to commute the sentences of at least 150 female and teenage Palestinian security prisoners, or three terrorists for every hostage that is released. The Palestinian terrorists, many of whom are affiliated with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, will be allowed to return to their previous places of residence in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Hamas previously released four hostages for what it said were “humanitarian reasons.” Judith Raanan, 59, and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie were freed on Oct. 20. Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, were let go three days later.
Moreover, IDF special forces late last month rescued Pvt. Ori Megidish from Gaza.
Last week, IDF soldiers operating in the vicinity of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City recovered the bodies of Cpl. Noa Marciano, 19, and Yehudit Weiss, 65. Both women were murdered during their captivity.
As the Cabinet convened on Tuesday night, Palestinian Islamic Jihad announced that one of the Israeli hostages had died in captivity. Hannah Katzir, 77, from Kibbutz Nir Oz, previously appeared in a propaganda video circulated by the Iranian-backed terror group.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday told troops that the Jewish state would “complete the victory and create the impetus for the next groups of hostages, who will only come back as a result of pressure.
“I estimate that in the next month or two, at least in December and January, and perhaps longer, there will be intense fighting of the kind we’re currently seeing, and in some places even more,” Gallant said during a visit with the navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit.
Gallant’s remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed the nation on Wednesday night and vowed to “continue until we achieve all our objectives.”
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