Israel has claimed that Hamas has moved its youngest hostage into the IDF’s firing line, hours after it last night received the fourth group of hostages from the terror group. Hamas has handed ten-month-old Kfir Bibas (Pictured left) to a separate Palestinian terror group in the southern city of Khan Younis, an IDF spokesperson today claimed. Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Colonel Avihai Adrei said the ‘babies with the red hair’ were ‘now being held by one of the factions’ in the area around Khan Younis, Gaza, according to a message posted on X.
Baby Kfir had just learned to walk when he, along with his brother Ariel, four, and his mother Shiri, 32, was taken from his family’s home in Kibbutz Nir Oz during Hamas’ incursion on October 7. During the deadly attack on Israel, Shiri, her husband Yarden, 34, and the two young boys desperately hid in a safe room armed only with a pistol, only to be taken out as Hamas gunmen smashed down their door. The image of the two young boys being carried by their weeping mother, Shiri, as they were marched from their homes was one of the most striking to be published in the early days of the Israel-Hamas war. Yarden’s fate is unknown, and it is believed that he is either dead or one of the roughly 200 hostages remaining in Hamas custody.
Their family said in a statement today: ‘We are experiencing moments of great uncertainty. The realisation that we will not get the hug we wished for leaves us speechless.’ While it is not known exactly which group currently holds the family, military analyst Michael Horowitz said: ‘It appears they may be in the hands of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).’ The PFLP is one of the largest groups that form the political coalition that claims to represent the West Bank and Gaza. It does not recognise Israel as a state, and has historically pushed for a one-state solution with Palestine at the steering wheel.
The group are believed to be holding the Bibas family in Khan Younis, the Gaza Strip’s second city, which in 2017 was home to just over 205,000 people. Though they may be held by a different group, IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the responsibility for the hostages remained with Hamas. The city is set to be the next target in Israel’s bloody offensive against the Gaza Strip, which has so far killed over 14,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Israel urged Palestinians living in the city to leave just over a week ago, suggesting it will soon be the site of renewed fighting once the now-extended ceasefire concludes. Mark Regev, an adviser to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, told MSNBC earlier this month: ‘We’re asking people to relocate. I know it’s not easy for many of them, but we don’t want to see civilians caught up in the crossfire. Regev said that IDF troops would need to go into the city to take out Hamas fighters from underground tunnels.’
He said he was ‘pretty sure’ Palestinians who needed to relocate from the city ‘won’t have to move again’ if they headed west, towards the Mediterranean Sea. It is currently unclear when fighting in the Gaza Strip will resume, as Hamas and Israel are currently nearing the end of a since-extended ceasefire. The temporary truce, originally set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, was extended just hours before the initial agreement was due to end and suggesting that more hostages will be released from Gaza this week. The terms of the truce agreement pausing the fighting in the Gaza Strip say it can be extended beyond its initial four-day term as long as 10 hostages are released for each extra day, with three times as many Palestinians freed in return. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the truce had been extended by two more days, suggesting Hamas intends to released another 20 hostages on top of the 50 hostages that were set to be released over the first four days.
11 more hostages held by Hamas are now back on Israeli soil, after the fourth exchange of hostages and prisoners. IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said tonight that ‘an elite unit of the IDF’ accompanied the group, all young children, teenagers and mothers, back to Israel, where they will undergo a medical assessment. ‘Our forces will accompany the returnees until they reach their families in the hospitals.’ All 11 hostages, made up of three French citizens, two German citizens and six Argentinian citizens, being released tonight were all taken by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Oz, a settlement just a mile-and-a-half away from the Gaza border with a pre-incursion population of around 400.
The hostages, almost all of whom are young children and teenagers, have been named as: Yuli Cunio, three, Emma Cunio, three, Sharon Aloni Cunio, 34, Karina Engelbert, 51, Yagil Jacob, 12, Erez Kalderon, 12, Sahar Kalderon, 16, Or Jacob, 16, Yuval Engel, 11, Mika Engel, 18, and Eitan Yahalomi, 12. But fears from earlier tonight that Hamas would split up families have seemingly been confirmed, as many of the children released have been forced to leave their loved ones behind. The Cunio family are still missing their father, David, after they were all taken from Nir Oz during Hamas’ incursion. Twelve-year-old Eitan will also be missing his father, Ohad, who remains a Hamas prisoner. Eitan’s mother, Bat Sheva, previously revealed that motorcycle riding Hamas militants tried to kidnap her and her children from their Nir Oz home, but she managed to jump off with her two daughters. She added that she was terrified that her Manchester City-supporting son will not be the same following his seven-week stint as a hostage.
The Kalderon family, who will soon be reunited with 16-year-old Sahar (pictured) and 12-year-old Erez, are also missing their father, 53-year-old Oher. It is not currently known whether the hostages released tonight ever had contact with other members of their family who were also being held by Hamas. A spokesperson for the hostages families tonight told MailOnline: ‘Every single child that has been released tonight is being returned while their father is being left in Hamas captivity in Gaza. Very hard to swallow.’ All 11 hostages came from the same settlement, Kibbutz Nir Oz. The head of the kibbutz, Osnat Peri, tonight said in a statement: ‘The news this evening brings a sigh of relief to our community.’
He said that he and his community are still ‘deeply concerned about our loved ones that are still held hostage’, adding that of the hostages still left in Gaza, 49 are from Nir Oz. Three of the hostages were French, and the country’s president Emmanuel Macron tonight said in a post to X: ‘Three of our young compatriots are part of the group of hostages released today. Extremely happy with this announcement.’ Images of Hamas handing over the 11 hostages revealed its militants stood in a parade as the civilians walked towards a Red Cross van, which took them back to Israeli officials. One as-yet-unidentified hostage was seen leaving Hamas custody in a wheelchair, while several others were seen in bright pink clothes.
Qatar’s foreign ministry tonight said in a post to X that 33 Palestinian civilians held in Israeli jails will be freed in exchange, as part of the temporary ceasefire deal that was today extended by two days. The deal is understood to have gone down to a wire and seemed on the verge of unravelling. Hamas had accused Israel of failing to keep its side of the bargain and Israel was threatening to resume its lethal onslaught on the Gaza Strip. But mediators were able to pull it back from the brink, a feat that involved the first ever public visit by Qatari officials to Israel, according to AP. Israeli media this afternoon reported Hamas had amended the hostage list ahead of today’s exchange, cutting down the number of people it would set free.
The government was said to be ‘not happy’ with the list of hostages due to be released because it is made up of children and elderly women – suggesting yet more families are to be split up because children will not be released with their parents. European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said the extension of the current truce in Gaza is within reach, and that it would allow international community to work on a political solution to the conflict. He said that the Palestinian Authority needs to regain control of Gaza from Hamas, offering a ‘better and viable’ alternative to it.
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