The freed Israelis included nine women and four children aged nine and under
Family and friends of Israeli hostages released by Hamas have celebrated the return of their relatives as the militant group released 24 people it had held for weeks in the Gaza Strip.
A crowd of Israelis gathered in a plaza dubbed Hostages Square in Tel Aviv to mark releases as part of a ceasefire swap deal.
The freed Israelis included nine women and four children aged nine and under. They were taken to hospitals in Israel to be reunited with their families.
Yael Adar spotted her mother, 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, in a TV newscast of the release and was cheered to see her walking.
“That was a huge concern, what would happen to her health during these almost two months,” she told Israel’s Channel 12.
But Yael Adar’s 38-year-old son, Tamir Adar, remains in captivity. Both were kidnapped on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz.
“Everyone needs to come back. It’s happiness locked up in grief,” said Ms Adar.
The hostages included multiple generations. Nine-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri was freed along with his mother Keren Munder and grandmother Ruti Munder.
The fourth-grader was abducted during a holiday visit to see his grandparents at the kibbutz where about 80 people — nearly a quarter of all residents of the small community — are believed to have been taken hostage.
Meanwhile, more than three dozen Palestinian prisoners returned home to a hero’s welcome in the occupied West Bank after their release from Israeli prisons as part of the ceasefire deal.
The procession of freed prisoners, some accused of minor offences and others convicted over attacks, at a checkpoint outside Jerusalem drew massive crowds of Palestinians into a chanting, clapping, hand-waving, screaming frenzy.
Fifteen dazed young men, all in stained grey prison sweatsuits and looking exhausted, were carried through the streets on the shoulders of their teary-eyed fathers as fireworks lit up the night sky and patriotic Palestinian pop music blared.
Some of those released were draped in Palestinian flags, others in the green flags of Hamas. They flashed victory signs as they crowd-surfed.
“I have no words, I have no words,” said newly released 17-year-old Jamal Brahma to the hordes of jostling journalists and thousands of chanting Palestinians. “Thank God.”
Tears fell down his father Khalil Brahma’s cheeks as he brought his son down from his shoulders and looked him in the eye for the first time in seven months. Israeli forces had arrested Jamal at his home in the Palestinian city of Jericho last spring and detained him without charge or trial.
“I just want to be his father again,” he said.
Although the atmosphere was festive in the town of Beitunia, near Israel’s Ofer Prison in the West Bank, people were on edge.
The Israeli government has ordered police to shut down celebrations over the release. Israeli security forces at one point unleashed tear gas canisters on the crowds, sending young men, old women and small children sprinting away as they wept and screamed in pain.
“The army is trying to take this moment away from us but they can’t,” Mays Foqaha said as she tumbled into the arms of her newly released 18-year-old friend, Nour al-Taher, from Nablus, who was arrested during a protest in September at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. ”This is our day of victory.”
The Palestinian detainees freed on Friday included 24 women, some of whom had been sentenced to years-long prison terms over attempted stabbings and other attacks on Israeli security forces. Others had been accused of incitement on social media.
There were also 15 male teenagers, most of them charged with stone-throwing and “supporting terrorism”, a broadly defined accusation that underscores Israel’s long-running crackdown on young Palestinian men as violence surges in occupied territory.
“As a Palestinian, my heart is broken for my brothers in Gaza, so I can’t really celebrate,” said Abdulqader Khatib, a UN worker whose 17-year-old son Iyas was last year placed in “administrative detention” without charges or trial and based on secret evidence.
“But I am a father. And deep inside, I am very happy.”