A group of 17 hostages were released from the Gaza Strip on Saturday after an hourslong delay and have arrived in Israel, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Thirteen Israelis and four Thai nationals were freed Saturday as part of a breakthrough deal between Israel and Hamas to pause fighting. As was expected under the agreement, a second-day release of 39 Palestinian prisoners held by Israeli authorities was implemented, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said early Sunday, local time.
Fifty of an estimated 240 people abducted by militants during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and 150 Palestinian inmates held by Israeli authorities were expected to have been released by the end of the four-day cease-fire Monday.
The Red Cross transferred the hostages to Egypt, and they later underwent an initial medical assessment inside Israeli territory and were brought to hospitals in Israel to reunite with their families, according to the IDF.
The 13 Israeli citizens released Saturday range in age from 3 to 67, according to a list from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Among the hostages freed Saturday was Emily Hand, who celebrated her ninth birthday Friday night, according to the group Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum. She was taken from a friend’s home on Oct. 7.
Siblings Noam Or, 17, and Alma Or, 13, were also released. The brother and sister, along with their father, Dror, were taken from their home in Kibbutz Be’eri.
“Their mother Yonat was murdered and their older brother Yahli survived the inferno as he was at his post in northern Israel where he is doing a year of national service,” the group said.
According to the list from Netanyahu’s office, other freed Israeli hostages include Shiri Weiss, 53; Noga Weiss, 18; Sharon Hertzman Avigdori, 52; Avigdori’s daughter Noam Avigdori, 12; Shoshan Haran, 67; Haran’s daughter Adi Shoham, 38; Haran’s grandchildren Neve Shoham, 8, and Yahal Shoham, 3; Hila Rotem Shoshani, 12; and Mia Regev Jarbi, 21.
The release comes one day after a batch of 24 hostages were freed. Israel, in exchange, on Friday freed 39 Palestinians it had been holding for various alleged offenses.
A U.S. official told NBC News there’s hope three Americans will be released during the pause in fighting.
The families of hostages have relentlessly demanded the release of their loved ones, holding a demonstration last month in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Israel has said that around 240 hostages were taken when Hamas attacked the country on Oct. 7.
The temporary cease-fire deal, which began Friday and is set to last four days, was reached following an “extremely excruciating five-week process,” according to one official with President Joe Biden’s administration. An administration official said Biden was directly involved in the negotiations of the deal and received hourly updates on its progress. Biden thanked the leaders of Qatar, Egypt and Israel, who helped broker the deal, during a televised address from Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Under the deal, hundreds of trucks will be allowed to deliver aid to the region. On Saturday, 187 trucks with humanitarian aid including food, water and medical supplies passed through the Rafah crossing, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
The question of extending the cease-fire after the four-day period remained open, with Israel stating that the return of its abducted citizens was paramount alongside the destruction of Hamas.
A White House readout of a call Saturday between Biden and Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani expressed concern mainly with ensuring that the four-day agreement is implemented despite hurdles. Qatar played a crucial role in creating the hostage and inmate release agreement.
IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari indicated during a news conference Saturday that extending the agreement to cover further releases was not out of the question. “It’s not over till it’s over,” he said.