WORLD NEWS After weeks in captivity, freed Palestinians and Israelis must...

After weeks in captivity, freed Palestinians and Israelis must rebuild lives amid ongoing war | CBC News

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A small but growing number of Palestinian and Israeli families are reuniting with loved ones as a Qatar-mediated, four-day truce between Hamas and Israel unfolds with dozens of captives and detainees being freed.

The warring sides agreed to allow the release of a limited number of individuals, which on Friday saw Israel receiving 24 Hamas-held hostages and Israeli authorities freeing 39 Palestinians held in jails. These releases will be followed by others if the truce proceeds as planned during the days ahead.

The Israeli hostages were hauled away from their homes when Hamas launched surprise attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Authorities there say some 1,200 people were killed in the violence and roughly 240 people were taken hostage.

Israel soon declared war on Hamas, launching devastating airstrikes as well as an eventual ground campaign in a bid to destroy the militant group. Health authorities in the Hamas-run territory say 14,000 people have died since the start of the war.

An Israeli ambulance is seen leaving the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Gaza border on Friday. Ambulances transported the hostages back into Israel. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

The people leaving captivity — whether Palestinian or Israel — must now try to rebuild their lives at a time when a war has upended life on both sides of the border and left widespread grief in its wake.

Hostages faced ‘extreme conditions’: doctor

Dr. Hagai Levine, a public health physician leading the medical and resilience team for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Israel, said he’s “very concerned” how people taken hostage are holding up amid the stresses of Hamas-imposed captivity.

WATCH | Assessing the health of returning hostages

Doctor explains how medical teams will help Hamas hostages after release

Featured VideoDr. Hagai Levine, who leads a medical team that will assist hostages, says medical teams will look to address any urgent medical needs first and then turn to emotional, psychological and other needs.

“We know that many of them had prior medical conditions that are not properly treated in captivity,” said Levine, who spoke to CBC News Network from Holon, Israel, on Friday, the day the first hostages were let go.

“They were in extreme conditions underground without exposure to sun and without [a] proper diet, with emotional and stress,” he said.

He added that some were presumed to have been injured during their abduction nearly seven weeks earlier.

For those who have spent time in captivity, first steps involve checks on their physical health and immediate needs. Levine said the initial group of 13 Israelis released by Hamas — their ages ranging from two years to 85 years —  appeared to be in “good condition” despite their ordeal.

WATCH | Update on children released by Hamas: 

Released Israeli children in good condition, hospital pediatric director says

Featured VideoThe child hostages released on the first day of the truce between Israel and Hamas are being cared for at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center. Gilat Livni, the director of pediatrics, says the children are in good condition and have even asked to stay at the hospital for a few days.

Gilat Livni, director of pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Medical Centre in Petah Tikva, Israel, said the children released by Hamas on Friday were in relatively good shape, though they had lost weight while in captivity.

They asked to stay for a few days at the medical facility because “they feel we’re taking care of them,” Livni told the CBC’s Briar Stewart.

A group of Thai nationals and one Philippine national were also part of the first wave of hostages released Friday.

Francisco Santos Calderón, a Colombian politician and journalist, survived being taken hostage by a drug cartel in his native Colombia three decades ago. He has his own fears for hostages still held by Hamas but noted people have a capacity to endure such stresses.

“The resiliency of the human being is very big,” Santos Calderón told CBC News Network on Friday. “They’ll cope and they’ll survive.”

Levine said the release of hostages may be bittersweet for those with family members still being held by Hamas.

Shattered lives, communities

After freed individuals have received urgent medical care, the focus will turn to broader forms of support in helping them return to a life outside captivity, Levine said.

Santos Calderón recalled his own return to freedom and some of the challenges that followed.

He described creating “a huge mental wall” during his ordeal in Colombia, pushing away thoughts of family that could unravel his focus on staying alive.

“It took me many years to bring that wall down,” he said.

Levine noted that people being freed may not have a home to return to, with some kibbutzim destroyed in the same attacks that swept the hostages into captivity.

Palestinians are seen lining up for fuel to use for cooking, in a part of the Gaza Strip near the Rafah border crossing.
Palestinians wait at a spot in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, to obtain fuel for cooking. (Hatem Ali/The Associated Press)

“It will be very difficult for these communities to recover,” Levine said.

The war has also devastated communities on the other side of the border, as powerful airstrikes have levelled residential structures in Gaza and displaced at least two-thirds of the territory’s 2.3 million people.

Women, teenage detainees freed

A corresponding set of actions on the Israeli side saw 24 Palestinian women and 15 teenagers — all of whom had been held in Israeli prisons in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem — freed on Friday.

Palestinians react after their release from an Israeli jail near Ramallah in the West Bank.
Released Palestinians react as they leave the Israeli military prison, Ofer, on Friday. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

The Palestinian detainees freed 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 teens, 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 the 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 was placed in “administrative detention” last year, without charges or trial and based on secret evidence.

“But I am a father. And deep inside, I am very happy.”

A van carrying Palestinian prisoners arrives at the Ofer military prison near Ramallah in the West Bank.
A van carrying Palestinian prisoners is seen Friday outside Israel’s Ofer military prison, near Ramallah in the West Bank. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Yet in some Palestinian homes, the joy of being reunited with loved ones was tinged with bitterness. In at least three cases, prior to the detainees’ release, Israeli police raided their families’ homes in Jerusalem, witnesses said. Police declined to comment.

“There is no real joy, even this little joy we feel as we wait,” said Sawsan Bkeer, the mother of 24-year-old Palestinian Marah Bkeer, jailed for eight years on knife and assault charges in 2015.

Israeli police were seen raiding her Jerusalem home before her daughter’s release.

“We are still afraid to feel happy,” she added.

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