16 more hostages are freed as Netanyahu vows to resume war at truce’s end

Members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad release Israeli hostages to the Red Cross, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 28, 2023. (Flash90)

by Philissa Cramer

(JTA) — Twelve more Israelis have been freed from Gaza, including several who had been separated from family members released in recent days, as the current truce deal appears to be reaching its conclusion.

The latest release includes two Russian-Israeli women whom Hamas released as a “gesture” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in addition to the 10 Israelis the terror group was required to release under the terms of its truce deal with Israel. Hamas also released four Thai workers whose names were not immediately released.

The hostages freed on Wednesday do not include members of the Bibas family, parents Shiri and Yarden and brothers Kfir, 10 months, and Ariel, 4, who have become symbols of the crisis in a country riveted by the daily ritual of learning who is coming home and who remains captive or missing. Hamas said on Wednesday that Shiri and her sons had been killed in an airstrike. Israel said it was investigating the “cruel and inhumane” claim, which comes days after Hamas said it had handed the family to a different terror group and more than five days since the last Israeli airstrike. Hamas previously returned a hostage whom it had previously said was dead.

Hamas has offered to release more hostages over the next four days in exchange for an extension of the ceasefire. It is not clear whether Israel will accept the offer. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to continue the war, and Israeli military leaders have reportedly signed off on plans for the conflict’s next phase.

Meanwhile, a far-right minister has threatened that his party will leave Netanyahu’s government if the war does not resume: National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s departure could but would not necessarily bring down the government.

Most of the latest freed hostages come from Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest-hit communities during the Oct. 7 attack where more than 100 people were killed. The Israeli hostages freed Wednesday are:

  • Raya Rotem, 54. Her 13-year-old daughter Hila was released Saturday, two days after the pair was reportedly separated for the first time since they were taken captive. While in Gaza, Rotem was the caretaker of Emily Hand, 9, who was sleeping at her house on the night of the attack; Hand was released along with Hila.
  • Raz Ben Ami, 55. Her husband Ohad was also abducted.
  • Yarden Roman-Gat, 36. After initially escaping from Hamas terrorists with her husband and toddler, Roman-Gat reportedly handed her child to her husband because he could run faster. Her husband and child survived the attack and were not recaptured.
  • Liat Beinin, 49. Beinin is a U.S. citizen who works at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Her husband Aviv Atzili remains in Gaza.
  • Moran Stella Yanai, 40. Yanai is a jewelry designer from Beersheba who was selling her work at the Nova music festival where an estimated 360 people were killed. She was seen on video being pulled by a Hamas terrorist from a ditch where she had hidden.
  • Liam Or, 18. His cousins Noam, 17, and Alma, 13, were released on Friday, and their father Dror remains a hostage; their mother Yonat was killed on Oct. 7.
  • Itai Regev, 18. Regev’s sister Maia, 21, was released on Saturday and rushed into surgery because of a wound to her leg. The siblings were captured at the Nova festival; their friend Omer Shem-Tov remains in Gaza.
  • Ofir Engel, 18. A resident of Jerusalem and a Dutch dual citizen, Engel was visiting his girlfriend on Kibbutz Be’eri the day of the attack; she survived, but her father, Yossi Sharabi, was taken captive and remains in Gaza.
  • Amit Shani, 16. Shani was taken with Engel and Sharabi, the only member of his family to be abducted.
  • Gali Tarshansky, 13. Tarshansky was captured after jumping from the window of her home’s safe room along with her father, who survived. Her brother Lior, 15, was killed.
  • Yelena Trupanov, 50, and Irene Tati, 77. The Russian-Israeli mother and daughter were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7, along with Trupanov’s son Sasha and his girlfriend, Sapir Cohen; her husband Vitaly was murdered. Sasha Trupanov and Cohen remain hostages.

The release means that all of the children believed to be held hostage in Gaza have been released, with the exception of the Bibas brothers and Aisha Ziadna, 17, and Bilal Ziadna, 18, Bedouin Muslims who were abducted with two other members of their family. The group, from the city of Rahat, was working in a dairy on a kibbutz the morning of the attack; a relative, Youssef Ziadna, gained renown for his heroism saving 30 people from the Nova massacre.

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