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Teenage siblings freed from Hamas captivity, only to learn their mother had been murdered

Throughout the 50 days Noam and Alma Or were held captive in Gaza, one thought kept the siblings going: reuniting with their mother, who they’d been separated from on October 7 during Hamas’ brutal attacks on their community.

But when Noam, 17, and Alma, 13, were released together on Saturday, “this dream had been shattered by the fact that she was murdered,” said the siblings’ maternal uncle Ahal Besorai.

“My sister, their mom, was murdered on October 7. The children did not know that,” he said, speaking to CNN from the Philippines. “We thought they were together when they were kidnapped, but they were separated from the outset.”

“When they first crossed the border and reunited with their grandmother and older brother, the first news that they had to confront was the fact that their mom is no longer alive. And that was a terribly emotional and traumatic moment for them,” Besorai added.

The siblings’ father Dror remains missing, believed captive in Gaza.

The family had lived in the Be’eri kibbutz, a close-knit farming community of about 1,100 residents, located close to the Gaza border. But the idyllic kibbutz became the scene of bloodshed and devastation on October 7, as one of the main targets for Hamas militants who poured over the border and laid siege to nearby communities.

The militants murdered more than 120 Be’eri residents, including children, and kidnapped others. They set people’s homes on fire, looted, stole and destroyed what they could. In total, some 1,200 people, most civilians, were slain by Hamas militants across southern Israel that day.

It was amid this chaos and terror that Noam and Alma were separated from their parents and taken hostage by Hamas. While in Gaza, they were taken to a house and kept in a room with another woman from their kibbutz, said Besorai, who also grew up in Be’eri.

He didn’t describe in detail what the siblings had gone through, saying he didn’t want to add to the burden of families with loved ones still held hostage. But, he said, “it wasn’t pleasant, to say the least. It was horrible.”

Hamas is believed to have held more than 200 hostages in Gaza prior to the releases negotiated with Israel. Under the breakthrough truce agreement, groups of Israeli citizens and other nationals have been freed every day since last Friday, while Israel has released Palestinian women and children detainees from its prisons, many of whom have never been charged or sentenced.

The initial four-day truce was extended by an additional two days on Monday, as stories began to trickle out from the families of freed hostages, giving the first insights into what life had been like in captivity.

Noam, Alma and the third woman in their room shared a diary, but the siblings weren’t allowed to bring it with them during their release, said Besorai. In fact, they didn’t realize they were being released at all, with Hamas taking measures to conceal that fact from the third hostage, he added.

Militants took the siblings out of the room “on a ploy that they are going to the toilet, then handcuffed them, blindfolded them, took them to the car that took them to the place where they are being handed over to the Red Cross,” said Besorai. “They tried to hide it from the lady who stayed behind, all on her own – so maybe (that) put some psychological pressure on her.”

Even after what the siblings had endured, Noam – who Besorai described as a “beautiful person” – voiced compassion for those in crisis-stricken Gaza, where more than 14,800 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks since October 7 according to data from Hamas-run health authorities there.

“When they were walking (from the Hamas vehicle) to the Red Cross, and they were holding hands, Noam told his sister Alma, that he just felt very sorry because they were surrounded by Gazans, civilians. He said, ‘I feel so sorry for them because they are staying here, and we are going home,’” Besorai said.

Now that the siblings are free, the family is focused on their recovery; they lost weight over the past two months, but are otherwise “sort of okay,” Besorai said. Still, he worries about the toll that captivity has taken on them, and the trauma that may linger.

“When I spoke to them, the first time I spoke to Alma, the 13-year-old niece, she had this enormously big smile and glittering eyes when she came to the Zoom call,” he said.

“And this is what stuck in my head: What is behind these glittering eyes? What is deep inside them following this horrible ordeal? It is just very difficult for me to assess.”

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