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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 11:44 GMT
Israel welcomes hostage 'miracle'
Freed hostages at the Israeli Embassy in Bogota
Relatives described their relief at the men's release
Israeli relatives of four hostages freed by Colombian rebels have hailed their release as a "Hanukkah miracle".

The leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) handed over Israelis Beni Daniel, Ortaz Ohayon, Ido Guy and Erez Altawil and Briton Mark Henderson to mediators.

On Monday, Israeli television interrupted broadcasts with images of the men at a Colombian airport.

"It's a huge relief after more than three months... a Hanukkah miracle," said Tami Ohayon, mother of Mr Ohayon.

The men were among eight hostages taken on 12 September; a German and a Spaniard were freed last month, while a British man escaped soon after the captures.

I hope the families who have been reunited with their loved ones will return to us and light the last Hanukkah candle here in Israel
Silvan Shalom, Israeli Foreign Minister

They appeared in good health as they got into helicopters at a handover site in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Later in the day, the four Israelis were taken to the Israeli Embassy in the Colombian capital, Bogota.

There they celebrated their release and the Jewish festival of Hanukkah by lighting the fourth candle on the menorah - a ceremonial candlestick.

They are expected to fly home in a couple of days.

'Light and joy'

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom issued a statement expressing Israel's gratitude to the government of Colombia and President Alvaro Uribe and the church figures who negotiated the release.

(Left-right) Mark Henderson, Beni Daniel, Erez Altawil, Ortaz Ohayon and Ido Yosef Guy raise their arms after being freed by rebels
The freed hostages appeared in good health

Mr Shalom also thanked the Israeli Embassy in Bogota "who spared no effort in working for the release of the hostages and was available for the hostages' families during their most difficult hours".

"The release of the hostages during Hanukkah," Shalom said, "adds light and joy to every home in Israel."

"I hope the families who have been reunited with their loved ones will return to us and light the last Hanukkah candle here in Israel."

'Mommy, I love you'

In Bogota, the mother of 22-year-old Israeli hostage Ortaz Ohayon was able to speak to her son on a cell phone after his release.

Colombia
The hostages had been held since September

"Everything is okay. He said, 'Mommy, I love you," Tami Ohayon told the Associated Press news agency.

In Britain, the parents of 32-year-old Mark Henderson were delighted their son would be home in time for Christmas.

"I can't believe it, it's like a dream," said Mr Henderson's mother, Sharelle. "I feel sheer joy and just want to speak to him."

The hostages had been seized at gunpoint near the spectacular 2,500-year-old Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Indian ruins.

The rebels said they kidnapped the men to publicise the persecution of Indian villagers by rightwing paramilitaries, and not for a ransom.




SEE ALSO:
'Best gift' for hostage parents
23 Dec 03  |  England
Mediators plea for Colombia truce
18 Dec 03  |  Americas
Rebels make new release promise
16 Dec 03  |  North Yorkshire
Colombia rebels free two hostages
25 Nov 03  |  Americas
Colombia kidnap demand met
23 Nov 03  |  Americas
Colombia hostages shown on video
12 Nov 03  |  Americas


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