As Israel and Hamas indicated that they were preparing a cease-fire to free 50 hostages, some families of those abducted to Gaza last month were grappling with conflicting emotions: a growing optimism that their loved ones would return that was chilled by a gnawing fear that the deal might collapse — or worse, that they might be left behind.
“If we’ve been on a roller coaster, now we’re going up,” said Gili Roman, whose sister Yarden Roman was taken hostage from Be’eri, a Gaza border kibbutz, during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7. “The fear is that the higher we go, the farther we’ll fall. There’s a lot of anxiety.”
The Israeli government and Hamas announced Wednesday morning that they would uphold a brief cease-fire in Gaza to allow for the release of the hostages.
The Israeli decision, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in a WhatsApp message, would allow for a pause of at least four days in the fighting in Gaza. If it holds, it would be the longest halt in hostilities since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks prompted Israel to begin its bombardment and subsequent ground invasion of Gaza.
Less than an hour later, Hamas announced in a statement on Telegram that it had agreed to a four-day cease-fire that would allow for 50 hostages to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Yifat Zailer — whose cousin Shiri Bibas was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with Ms. Bibas’s husband, Yarden Bibas, and their two red-haired children, Ariel and Kfir — said her anxious wait for news has been tinged by the hope that she might soon see her loved ones and the fear something might go awry.
“I’m trying to take care not to be happy too quickly,” Ms. Zailer said on Tuesday. “It could collapse tomorrow, for any reason. We might see the days pass, the hostages returning — and Shiri and her children not among them.”
Kfir, less than a year old, is one of the youngest Israelis abducted by Hamas-led gunmen on Oct. 7. His family in Israel still does not know where he and his brother are being held, whether they are with their parents — or even if they are still alive, Ms. Zailer said.
But even if Ms. Bibas, Kfir and Ariel return home as part of the emerging hostage deal — far from guaranteed — Yarden, her husband, is likely to stay behind.
“We are being torn apart,” Ms. Zailer said, calling it an impossible situation. “It breaks your heart,” she added.
At Kibbutz Nir Oz, 76 people were taken hostage on Oct. 7, according to Irit Lahav, a kibbutz spokeswoman.
Sheffa Phillips-Bahat, 15, a resident of the kibbutz, had two cousins who were kidnapped by Hamas — brothers Or, 16, and Yagil Yaakov, 12. Their father, Yair Yaakov, was also taken hostage.
Yagil appeared in a video released on Nov. 9 by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group based in Gaza that invaded Israeli towns on Oct. 7 alongside Hamas. In the video, he asked Israel to bring him home. Hostages often appear in such videos under duress and their statements are likely to have been coerced.
Ms. Phillips-Bahat and her family have not heard whether her cousins would be among those coming home in a hostage exchange, but they remain optimistic.
“I can’t think of anything but getting the hostages back,” she said.
David Blumenfeld, Carmit Hoomash and Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting.