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November 28, 2023

Grandmother of Lower Merion family among hostages released by Hamas

Deitza Heiman, 84, was one of 12 people freed Tuesday as part of the ongoing cease-fire in Gaza. Israel agreed to return 130 Palestinian prisoners

An 84-year-old woman with family ties in Lower Merion was one of 12 hostages released by Hamas on Tuesday as part of ongoing cease-fire negotiations with Israel.

The family of Deitza Heiman said she was freed from Gaza and allowed to return home to Israel, KYW Newsradio reported. Heiman joined nine other Israelis and two Thai nationals who were released by Hamas. Israel agreed to release 30 Palestinian prisoners as part of the exchange.

Heiman's family said she was kidnapped by Hamas during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel that sparked the war in Gaza. She was one of 240 hostages taken to Gaza. Hamas is still holding about 160 hostages, the Associated Press reported.

Heiman's stepson, Amichai Shdaimah, of Ardmore, told the Inquirer in October that Heiman was taken hostage in the agricultural community of Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel, less than two miles from the border with Gaza. A neighbor had told the family that Heiman had called for help, but her home was soon surrounded by militants. She was later seen in a Hamas propaganda video that showed her being led away by her captors, the family said.

Elad Shdaimah, Heiman's grandson, said the family had called her home repeatedly until an Arabic speaker picked up her phone and said, "Hamas, Hamas." 

Since her capture, Heiman's family has been raising awareness about the hostages in Gaza and urging their release.

The tenuous cease-fire, now in its fifth day, has allowed for humanitarian aid to reach Gaza by halting Israel's heavy bombing campaign and opening negotiations to free hostages. Israel is reportedly willing to extend the cease-fire by one additional day for each 10 hostages released by Hamas, but has pledged to resume its military operation in Gaza.

The Israeli military said the Israeli hostages released Tuesday were flown to hospitals. To date, 60 Israelis have been freed under the terms of the truce brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States. Another 21 foreign hostages also have been released in separate negotiations. Hamas released four Israeli hostages before the cease-fire, and one was rescued by the Israeli military in Gaza. Two others were found dead in Gaza.

Israel also has released 180 Palestinian women and teenagers who were being held in prisons.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza has said the death toll in Gaza exceeds 15,000 since the start of the war. More than 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, were killed during the initial attacks by Hamas.