After weeks of excruciating negotiations, Hamas released a first group of hostages on Friday as part of a deal with Israel that included a four-day temporary cease-fire in Gaza and a swap for Palestinian prisoners.
A total of 24 women and children of different nationalities were freed by the Islamist militant group. In return, 39 Palestinian women and children were released from Israeli prisons, and more than 100 truckloads of aid were allowed into the devastated Gaza strip.
No Americans were among the hostages Hamas sent home on Friday, but three U.S. citizens are part of the more than two dozen captives due to be released in the next several days, President Joe Biden said. One of them is little Avigail Edan, whose parents were slain in Hamas' brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Avigail turned 4 on Friday, still captive to her mother and father's killers. Two American women, whose identities have not been disclosed, are also expected to be released during the truce.
As Avigail and the other Americans waited their turn at freedom, Israelis and others rejoiced at the handful hostages who were released on Friday.
Who are the hostages that were released?
The freed hostages included 13 Israelis, 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino citizen, according to Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which was instrumental in negotiating their release.
Israel's government also said that 11 foreign nationals were released. A group representing the family and friends of hostages identified them as: Gelienor "Jimmy" Pacheco, Kanthawri Mulkan, Santi Bunphrom, Bunthom Pankhong, Mongkol Phajuabbun, Withun Phumi, Vichai Kalapat, Bancha Kongmani, Buddi Sengbun, Uthai Thunsri and Uthai Sengnual.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement that its citizens "underwent an initial medical examination and their families were informed of their return by the appointed officials."
According to the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, the freed hostages included, Ruthy, Keren and Ohad Munder, who were held for 49 days.
The group said that Avraham Munder, who is Ruthy's husband and Ohad's grandfather, is still being held hostage.
Kids aged 2 to 9 are among those freed
Ohad, who turned 9 last month, and his mother, Keren, 54, were visiting his grandparents when they were kidnapped, the organization said, and will return on Saturday to their home in Kfar Saba. Keren is a special education teacher and a volleyball coach.
Grandmother Ruthy, 78, is a retired librarian and a seamstress. She knits, paints, and sews, the group said.
The prime minister's office said that Danielle Alony, 45, and her daughter Amelia Alony, 5, were also released on Friday.
Both the Munder and the Alony families were abducted from the Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel near the Gaza border.
Danielle and her daughter Amelia were visiting family for the weekend when Hamas' assault began during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. Relatives believe several family members remain in captivity.
The Israeli government also said that Doron Katz-Asher, 34, and her two daughters, Raz Asher, 4, and Aviv Asher, 2, had been released Friday.
Doron and her children were in Kibbutz Nir Oz visiting relatives when they were taken at gunpoint alongside other members of their family. She is an accountant from Ganot Hadar, according to the missing families group.
The great-grandma in the golf cart
Netanyahu's office said the hostage release also included: Adina Moshe, 72; Chana Katzir, 76; Margalit Mozes 77; Chana Peri, 79; and Yaffa Adar, 85.
A statement from the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said that Adar was also taken from Kibbutz Nir Oz. The mother of three, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of seven was seen being driven away by Hamas in a golf cart in a widely shared image.
According to the missing families group, Peri immigrated to Israel from South Africa and lives in Kibbutz Nirim, where she works in a grocery store. The mother of 3 has diabetes, the group said, and has severe vision loss in one eye. She loves to garden and go to exercise classes with her friends, the release said.
One of her grandchildren, Tamir Adar, 38, was also taken and is still in captivity, the group said.
How many hostages does Hamas have?
Hamas is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages, including 9 Americans and a U.S. green card holder.
Asked by a reporter on Friday when the first Americans will be released, President Biden said, "We don't know when that will occur...But we expect it to occur."
Biden could not say that all the estimated nine Americans who were unaccounted for after the Oct. 7 attack are alive and in captivity. "We don't know all their conditions," he told reporters.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Small children and grandmothers freed in Hamas prisoner swap