Hamas came under pressure on Tuesday to locate a 10-month-old baby and his family being held hostage in Gaza — after a 48-hour extension to the ceasefire was agreed with Israel.
The pause in Israel’s bloody offensive in Gaza was subject to renewal after the initial four days if both sides agreed, offering the territory’s beleaguered Palestinian population some respite from weeks of Israeli bombardment. Ahmad Maghrabi, a surgeon in Gaza, said the two-day extension offered “hope inside the dark” with civilians able to relax and desperately-needed aid now coming into the coastal territory.
“I’m spending all my time inside the operative rooms. Every day I have 15 to 20 cases I’m doing. But I have seen some drugs arrive. We were lacking everything, but now they have brought surgical supplies, disposables, everything,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Hamas has so far released 51 of the estimated 240 hostages it took during a terrorist rampage across southern Israel on October 7 that left 1,200 people dead.
But it is facing fresh calls to free the youngest hostage that has been kidnapped, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas.
Hamas says it is not holding all of the hostages. The Bibas family — parents Yarden, 34, and Shiri, 32, along with four-year-old Ariel and Kfir — were transferred to another Palestinian terror group in Gaza, according to the Israeli military.
The announcement by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) cast doubt on whether they might be also released during the current truce, and relatives of the family said in a statement: “We are currently experiencing moments of great uncertainty.
“The realisation that we will not receive the hug we longed for so much now leaves us speechless. We are happy for the families united with their loved ones. We won’t stop the fight for the return of our loved ones to Israel,” they wrote, according to The Times of Israel.
IDF spokesman Avichai Adraee said the family was being held in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. It was unclear which Palestinian faction was detaining them.
“Children and babies under the age of one, who have not seen the light of day for more than 50 days, are being held captive by Hamas, [which] treats some of them like loot and in some places has transferred them to other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip,” Mr Adraee wrote.
Among those freed last night were mother Sharon Aloni Cunio, 34, and her three-year-old twin daughters Emma and Yuli. However, her husband David was still being held by Hamas.
French-Israeli Eitan Yahalomi, 12, was reunited with his mother. Siblings Oria Brodutch, four, Yuval Brodutch, eight, and Ofri Brodutch, 10, were seen hugging their dog Rodney after they were freed. Another 20 Israeli hostages were meant to be freed today and tomorrow, in exchange for 60 Palestinian inmates held in Israeli jails.
Israeli Ruti Munder, 78, described her ordeal after she was freed last week with her daughter and nine-year-old grandson. Speaking to Israel’s Channel 13 television station, Mrs Munder said she was initially fed well in captivity but that conditions worsened as shortages took hold in Gaza. She was kept in a “suffocating” room and slept on plastic chairs with a sheet for nearly 50 days.
The release of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli custody has been met with scenes of jubilation on the West Bank. One of the women told cheering onlookers: “The price of our freedom is expensive. We always hoped that we would be freed and that our people would be safe and happy.
“We were freed but they are in a sea of blood. We hope God grants victory to the resistance and that Gaza returns better than it was before.”
US secretary of state Antony Blinken is set to visit the region later this week for the third time since the war started.
The state department said he would discuss efforts to accelerate the delivery of aid and “protect civilian life during Israel’s operations in Gaza”, with the death toll relayed by Hamas health authorities now surpassing 14,500 people, including many children.
Aid was reported to be getting into northern Gaza, which was the initial focus of Israel’s offensive against Hamas. Israel has vowed eventually to resume the war with “full force” to destroy Hamas once and for all, but was also under mounting US pressure to avoid replicating the destruction of northern Gaza in the south, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are sheltering.