Voice from the sky: “Netanyahu: Bomb, bomb, bomb, and bomb, until all the hostages and the complete information about them are released! And then bomb some more. Let them learn their lesson.”
JERUSALEM (AP) — A weeklong cease-fire that brought the exchanges of dozens of hostages held by Hamas for scores of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel gave way Friday morning to resumed fighting between Israel and Hamas. As mediators scuttle between the warring sides in a last-ditch effort to broker another swap, questions emerge on who remains in captivity in the besieged enclave.
Hamas and other militants seized around 247 hostages in their deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, in which more than 1,200 people were killed. Israel has pummeled the Gaza Strip in return, killing at least 13,300 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to health authorities in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Here’s a closer look at the fate of the hostages.
HOSTAGES STILL IN CAPTIVITY
Israel said on Friday that 136 hostages remain in Gaza. They include 119 men and 17 women and children, according to military spokesperson Daniel Hagari. Roughly 10 of the hostages are 75 and older, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday.
The vast majority are Israeli while 11 are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand, one from Nepal and Tanzania each, and one French-Mexican.
Earlier, government spokesperson Eylon Levy listed the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his 4-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri as still being among the hostages. The military has said it’s investigating a Hamas claim that the boys and their mother were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Hagari provided no information about the three.
Families of hostages who have not been released are still waiting in desperation, calling on the government to bring their loved ones home.
They hear reports from the families of recently freed hostages that conditions are difficult and worry their loved ones do not have sufficient food and water. They plead with the Red Cross to bring their relatives badly needed medicine. They agonize as mere crumbs of information about their relatives surface.
Sharone Lifschitz, whose mother was freed in October, heard this week that a returned hostage had seen her father, 83-year-old Oded Lifshitz, in captivity. Her father, who spells the family name differently, was last seen shot while militants carted him off to Gaza.
She says the news was a “ray of light” but that she wonders if it’s still true.
“My father is ill, is frail. He needs medicine,” she said. “I don’t know how long he can survive in such harsh conditions.”
She said the return of women and children hostages has been bittersweet as their husbands and fathers remain in captivity. The idea that children would be able to recover from captivity while their fathers remain hostages was “unthinkable,” she added.
LITTLE INFO ON HOSTAGES WHO DIED IN CAPTIVITY
As the cease-fire waned, the military said Friday that four hostages were reported to have died in captivity, including the oldest person held hostage.
All the four, 56-year old Maya Goren, 86-year old Arye Zalmanovich, 54-year-old Ronan Engel, and 75-year-old Eliyahu Margalit, were from Kibbutz Nir Oz. The kibbutz was devastated in the attack, with roughly a quarter of its people killed or kidnapped.
On Thursday, the military announced the death of Ofir Tzarfati, another Israeli believed to have been held hostage. Two other hostages have died in Hamas captivity since Oct. 7, according to the military.
Officials have said little about how the deaths were determined but the army has said it has collected valuable information from the returned hostages.
Zalmanovich, a father of two and grandfather of five, was a founder of Kibbutz Nir Oz, a statement from the missing families group said. Goren was a mother of four and a kindergarten teacher for the kibbutz. Her husband was killed by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
Engel, a father of three, was a photographer and volunteer paramedic whose wife and two daughters were released from Gaza this week, the group said.
The group did not immediately release information on Margalit.
GLIMPSES OF HOSTAGES RELEASED
During the cease-fire, some 110 hostages held by Hamas militants in Gaza were returned to their families, Israel’s government said Friday. They include 86 Israeli citizens and 24 foreign nationals, most of them Thais.
The returnees have mostly appeared in stable health condition, able to walk and speak normally though many lost weight in captivity. One 84-year-old hostage returned in critical condition after not receiving proper medical care, doctors said. Another came back on crutches.
Families have greeted the return of their loved ones with joy and excitement, but doctors have warned of the psychological toll of captivity and say they face a long road to recovery.
There have been no in-depth stories of the hostages’ ordeal or captivity as the government has urged those released, their families and the media not to make public details of their time as prisoners to help ensure the safety of those still being held.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, in a meeting with the president of Egypt, said “under no circumstances [would] the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, the besiegement of Gaza, or the redrawing of the borders of Gaza”.