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An Israeli woman waits to learn if her sister, a Hamas hostage, will be freed in deal

Romi Gonen, age 23, was taken hostage and wounded in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. It's unclear whether she'll be among those released as part of the hostage deal.
Gonen Family
Romi Gonen, age 23, was taken hostage and wounded in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. It's unclear whether she'll be among those released as part of the hostage deal.

TEL AVIV, Israel — Under a deal reached early Wednesday morning, Hamas will release 50 Israeli hostages its militants captured during the Oct. 7 attack.

Yarden Gonen's sister Romi was kidnapped that day at the Supernova rave festival.

"They were young, full of life and wanted to celebrate," Gonen says. "Instead they faced the worst day of their lives."

Gonen says her family is now waiting anxiously to learn if Romi, 23, will be among those freed in the coming days.

"I just keep on praying and sending really good energies," Gonen told NPR Wednesday, after details of the deal were made public. "I'll be excited for anyone that will be [released] because they are my family too."

Qatar announced a four-day "humanitarian pause" in fighting between Israel and Hamas as part of a deal it mediated, along with the U.S. and Egypt, for Hamas to release 50 women and children being held hostage in Gaza. Qatar says Israel will release some Palestinian women and children from Israeli prison.

According to accounts of the agreement, hostages will be freed in installments over four days.

Israeli officials say they will pause military operation in Gaza and release 150 Palestinian prisoners.

The temporary cease-fire comes after Hamas-led militants killed roughly 1,200 people in the Oct. 7 attacks and seized about 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Since then, Israel's air and ground assaults in Gaza have killed at least 12,700 Palestinians, according the Palestinian health ministry.

Gonen says news of the hostage deal was her first moment of real hope after weeks of violence and fear.

"It's 47 days [since the Hamas attack] and it's literally like we're stuck in the same day," Gonen says.

Yarden Gonen says she hopes her younger sister Romi will be freed soon by Hamas. "I just keep on praying and sending really good energies," she told NPR.
/ Brian Mann / NPR
/
Brian Mann / NPR
Yarden Gonen says she hopes her younger sister Romi will be freed soon by Hamas. "I just keep on praying and sending really good energies," she told NPR.

"So we're very welcoming [for this deal and] everyone who comes out of this terror and this horror. But in the same breath, it's really hard because at the same time, maybe my sister won't be among the 50 people. So I'm trying hard not to get my hopes up."

A rave concert, a phone call, followed by weeks of terror

Hamas has signaled that many of those will released will be elderly or children under the age of 19.

When Hamas fighters attacked the Supernova concert, Romi Gonen was able to call her mother. In a recording of part of their conversation, shared by the family with NPR, gunfire can be heard and so can shouts, which the family believes are the voices of Hamas fighters.

"The last few minutes they are speaking of Romi, they are saying she is alive, they shouldn't kill her, they should take her with them," Gonen said. "Then one of them says, 'Okay I will take her.' And then the call ended."

The family believes Romi was shot in the hand during the attack and seriously wounded. They're not certain she is still alive.

"We really have a really strong intuition," Gonen says. "We really feel her."

Yarden Gonen, her mother and other siblings have been coming to a square in Tel Aviv where the families of hostages gather each day to share support and information. Other Israelis are also keeping vigil.

According to Gonen, the sense of community has been vital to her family's spirits and mental health. But even with that help, she said these weeks of waiting without solid information about her sister have been exhausting and terrifying.

"We have our ups and downs. We have so much support," she says. "I have a new family right now. All the [hostage] families are in the same boat I'm in, suffering from the same pain and uncertainty."

A coalition of families whose relatives were taken hostage issued a statement on Wednesday, urging the Israeli government to move quickly to secure the release of additional hostages.

"We welcome every hostage who returns home, yet our demand remains unchanged, the immediate release of all 236 hostages," the group said. "Securing the safe release of every hostage is a national priority. There is no victory until every last hostage returns home."

Israel has indicated by releasing a total of 300 Palestinian prisoner names that more exchanges of Israeli hostages for prisoners may may occur in future phases of the negotiated deal, if the initial agreement is carried out.

While Yarden Gonen worries about her sister, she is also frightened for her partner, who's been called up to serve in Israel's army as part of a mobilization of 300,000 reservists to support the war.

Though she is happy about the newly announced deal to release some hostages, she fears the pause in fighting will give Hamas a chance to regroup, leaving Israel and its army more vulnerable.

Yarden Gonen wears hope bracelets that say "Bring Them Home." She says her vigil won't end until her sister Romi and all Israeli hostages are freed by Hamas.
/ Brian Mann / NPR
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Brian Mann / NPR
Yarden Gonen wears hope bracelets that say "Bring Them Home." She says her vigil won't end until her sister Romi and all Israeli hostages are freed by Hamas.

"This is the fear all the time because you don't know what they're planning or what they know or what they are doing or what they plan to do," Gonen says.

With so much uncertainty, Gonen says she and her family now have to wait a little longer for a phone call from Israeli government officials, confirming whether Romi is coming home as part of this deal.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.