Dolls, doctors and helicopters await Israeli hostages at Gaza’s gate

The first Israeli women and children to go free from Gaza on Friday under a truce with their Hamas captors will be flown home under military guard, with measures meant to reduce the duress and attend to any immediate medical complications.

Ahead of the 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) release of the 13 hostages, who have not been identified, Israel’s air force published images of dolls, colorful throw-rugs and personal hygiene kits set up at locations scheduled to receive them by helicopter.

Hamas is due to deliver the group – among around 240 people held in the Gaza Strip since the Palestinian militants’ Oct. 7 killing spree in southern Israel – to neighboring Egypt. In return, Israel will release 39 Palestinians from its jails.

The swap is part of a temporary ceasefire that took hold in the Gaza Strip on Friday, the first respite in 48 days of an Israel-Hamas conflict that has devastated the Palestinian enclave.

“Today is the first light at the end of the tunnel,” an air force lieutenant colonel was shown saying in a video briefing. “We are all in this together.”

A military statement asked the public to respect hostages’ privacy. After landing in Israel, they will receive preliminary medical care and be sent to several hospitals for reunions with their families.

An Israeli official said military transport helicopters would take part in the repatriation, suggesting they would pick the hostages up at an Egyptian airport – perhaps in El Arish, near Gaza. That has not been formally confirmed by Cairo.

The helicopter crews would include a commando squad, doctors and liaison officers with training in communication and counselling – the first Israelis to greet the former captives.

“The personnel will introduce themselves by name, with a visible face and a smile, and maintain eye contact and distance in order to allow the caregivers and support teams to do their work in the best possible way,” the Israeli official said.

Among other measures designed to reduce stress would be the issuing of noise-cancelling headphones, including for the children among them, “to make the flight experience easier and provide them with peace and quiet,” the official said.

Health officials have said separately that the hostages would receive psychological attention and specialised care for any who may have suffered sexual assault.

While the adults released can expect to be questioned by Israeli security officials for information about their captivity and the fate of the others still held by Hamas, the child hostages will be spared this, local media reports have reported.

Four hostages have been returned alive previously while a fifth was rescued by Israeli troops. Israel has recovered the bodies of at least two more. The condition and locations of the remaining hostages was unclear.

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