For some families, returning Gaza hostages bring 'sign of life'

For some families, returning Gaza hostages bring 'sign of life'

Israelis cheer as a Israeli helicopter with released hostages lands in Tel Aviv
Israelis cheer as a Israeli helicopter with released hostages lands in Tel Aviv

TEL AVIV - When the first group of Israeli hostages was released from Gaza as part of a truce, Noam Peri's elderly father was not among them. But they brought with them news that he was still alive.

"We have a sign of life from my father, we know he's alive from other people from the community who were released yesterday," said Peri, whose 79-year-old father Haim was snatched from his home in Nir Oz kibbutz near the Gaza border by Hamas militants on October 7.

Without giving details, she said she had received the news from some of the 13 people who returned to Israel on Friday, the first day of a four-day truce and hostage swap deal with Hamas that also saw dozens of Palestinian prisoners freed.

All but one of the hostages released on Friday -- among them six elderly women, three mothers and their four children -- were from Nir Oz, one of the hardest hit communities when Hamas militants stormed across the border, killing around 1,200 people in southern Israel and kidnapping some 240 others.

Israel has responded with a withering aerial campaign and ground invasion that has killed 15,000 people, including thousands of children, according to authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.

In Nir Oz, 75 people were seized and 29 killed, Peri said. "So one out of four people from this community were either murdered or kidnapped," many of them neighbours or lifelong friends of her parents, kibbutz veterans.

Hearing that her father was still alive has given the anguished family fresh hope, but they have no guarantees he will be getting out soon, if at all -- the hostages to be released under the ceasefire deal are women and those aged 18 or under.

"It brings a lot of hope but we don't know how much time they're going to be able to hold on there," she said, describing her father as "a brave man but not a healthy man" who survived a heart attack and "depends on medication to survive".

- 'Beyond pain' -

Even for those whose loved ones have returned, the joy is tempered by the thoughts of others.

In a video released by the hostage families' forum, Roy Zichri Munder, whose brother was released on Friday, said: "We are not in a festive mood today, we are happy but we are not festive because there are more hostages detained."

He offered his support to those still being held. "You will be back soon," he told them, urging their families: "Don't lose hope."

For most, the wait goes on.

Nadav Rudaeff has had no indication of life for his 61-year-old father Lior, an ambulance driver and volunteer medic who suffered a heart attack two years ago.

"We are very concerned because he has no medicine," he said.

And Ruby Chen has also had no news about the fate of his son, 19-year-old soldier Itai, snatched while on duty protecting kibbutzim in the area.

"It's hard to describe the feeling of not knowing if your kid is alive or not," he said. "It's something beyond pain."

For days, the family did not know where he was. Their middle son listed as "missing in action" until at 6:00 am one morning, when two army officers knocked at their door.

Immediately they suspected the worst.

"That means someone's going to give you a very bad message. Your heart stops," he said.

"But we are the lucky ones: the notification we got was that Itai was abducted," he went on, "not the other notification that many others got that day."

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