Mother of rescued Gaza hostage recounts ‘hard and joyful’ reunion

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By Rami Amichay and Michal Yaakov Itzhaki

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – The mother of one of the four hostages rescued from Gaza by Israeli commandos last week described the surge of emotions that she and her family have experienced since officials rang her to say that her son was safe.

“For a few minutes I probably didn’t know how to react,” said Evgeniia Kozlova, whose son Andrey Kozlov was one of 253 Israeli and foreign hostages abducted by Hamas-led gunmen during their attack on Israel on Oct 7.

“But then I started laughing. And I’ve been laughing all the time ever since. I’m absolutely happy,” she told Reuters.

Andrey Kozlov, 27, was rescued along with 21 year-old Almog Meir Jan and 40 year-old Shlomi Ziv by Israeli special forces who raided the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Saturday in an operation Israeli officials said took weeks of planning and preparation.

Another Israeli hostage, 26 year-old Noa Argamani, was rescued from a nearby building during the same operation, which ended in a dramatic raid during which more than 200 Palestinians were killed, according to Gaza health authorities.

Evgeniia Kozlova said her first conversation with her son was an overwhelming mix of feelings that reflected the anguish they had suffered since his abduction from the Nova music festival ground just outside Gaza.

“It was both hard and joyful, and wonderful, and terrible because he was in a huge emotional turmoil,” she said.

‘FLOW OF ENERGY’

She said Andrey had told her that throughout the ordeal, during which he said he and his companions had been mistreated in various ways, he had been convinced he would return.

“There was such a flow of energy from him, he was crying and laughing, and I was laughing too. We were comforting each other,” she said.

The emotion felt by the family has been reflected across much of Israeli society, where news of the rescue was greeted with a surge of elation after months of increasingly grim news from the war in Gaza, now in its ninth month.

At least 120 Israeli hostages remain in Gaza, many of whom are dead, but talks aimed at agreeing a halt to the fighting and a deal under which they would be returned in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, appear to have stalled.

The rescued hostages, who were taken directly to hospital from Gaza, have not spoken publicly about their ordeal.

“Andrey told us: ‘There are some things I will never tell you’. I don’t know what he didn’t tell us and what he doesn’t want to ever tell us,” she said, but did say her son had given her a glimpse of the conditions they lived under.

“He told us that they were required to follow some very strange rules, like you can’t sit with your legs towards these terrorists. You can’t do this, and you can’t do that,” she said.

“You could be punished for getting the wrong water or getting it from the wrong place.”

She said the guards had frequently abused the prisoners verbally. “They liked to tell them: ‘You’re an animal, you’re a donkey, you’re a fool, you’re dirty’. Andrey now knows these words perfectly well in Arabic, everything about Arabic swear words he has learnt well.”

Hamas has denied mistreating the hostages.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Alison Williams)

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