Spontaneous celebrations welcome returnees on way from Gaza; grandfather of 4-year-old Avigail Idan elated, but her parents’ deaths are ‘an open wound that will never heal’
Scenes of Israeli joy greeted the arrival of a third group of freed hostages Sunday upon their release from Hamas captivity after 51 days.
Fourteen Israelis and three Thai citizens were transferred from terrorists’ hands to Israel, as part of a deal with Hamas that includes a four-day truce and the release of at least 50 Israeli prisoners out of the 240 abducted by the group on October 7. One of the Israelis, who also has Russian citizenship, was released as a gesture by Hamas to Moscow, and all three Thais were set free as part of a separate deal reached with Bangkok.
In a first scene of its kind since the hostage releases began Friday, hundreds of cheering people greeted vans ferrying the freed hostages, as the convoy made its way from Gaza to Hatzerim Airbase near Beersheba.
Excited onlookers in Ofakim brandished flags, sang and waved at those inside the vehicles, with some of the returnees seen waving back at the rapturous crowd.
From Hatzerim, the freed Israelis were sent to hospitals to get a medical checkup and meet with their familie.
The hostages were abducted on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea, killing at least 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages, under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
Waiting for this for 51 days
Amir Tibon gripped his head with emotion, as he studied the first picture of Ela and Dafna Elyakim, 8 and 15, after their release from captivity.
Tibon, a journalist and member of Nahal Oz, told another journalist: “I worried about all of them, all the three members of our kibbutz. But I’m telling you: Dafna was the one I thought the most about. She was the sunshine of the kibbutz. I have been waiting for this picture for 51 days.”
Yael Raz-Lahiani was feeling “happiness filled with suspense” as news broke of the return of three members of Nahal Oz — the Elyakim sisters and Elma Avraham, 84.
“We are breathing three sighs of relief. But we are not relieved, not until all seven members of the kibbutz who have been abducted are back,” said Raz-Lahiani, a mother of three, at a press conference at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek near Afula. Living there are most of the surviving members of Nahal Oz, a small kibbutz of about 400, where 14 people were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7.
The joy over the release quickly turned to concern as the elderly Avraham was rushed to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. The hospital said Avraham was in serious and life-threatening condition.
Rotem Katz, an emergency officer at Nahal Oz, said the return of the hostages brought out emotional turmoil..
Coutesy The Times of Israel