ByAlisa Odenheimer and Annmarie Hordern
Hamas militants freed two more hostages, both elderly women, from the Gaza Strip on Monday, signaling that efforts focused on winning the freedom of the more than 200 people seized in the deadly Oct. 7 raid into Israel may be bearing fruit.
The hostages were turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross and were on their way home, the ICRC said in a statement. The women had been seized along with their husbands, who weren’t released, according to the Associated Press.
The elderly women are Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifshitz, who lived on the Nir Oz kibbutz, which was overrun by Hamas on October 7, according to the Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel. Their release came three days after Hamas militants released an American mother and her daughter on Friday in a deal mediated by Qatar and Egypt.
The hostages were among the more than 200 people seized in Hamas raids into Israel on October 7 that killed 1,400 people. The releases have raised hopes for the remaining hostages’ families, who have pressed Israel to focus on their plight rather than launching a ground invasion of Gaza that’s expected to come any day and could scuttle further negotiations.
The fate of the hostages has complicated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a ground invasion of Gaza, which seemed imminent in the days following the attack. US and European officials have urged Netanyahu to wait on that campaign and focus on the hostages.
In the meantime, Israel has stepped up punishing air strikes that have killed some 5,000 Palestinians and sent hundreds of thousands more fleeing south in the Gaza Strip in search of safety.
Hamas has indicated it will be willing to free civilians — especially women and children — but would probably release soldiers only through trades for imprisoned Hamas fighters. President Joe Biden has also been urged by the progressive wing of his party to seek a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. On Monday he pushed back on that idea.
“We should have those hostages released and then we can talk,” Biden said.
On Friday, Hamas released two American citizens, Judith and Natalie Raanan, who were taken from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the site of one of the bloodiest massacres in the attack by Hamas.
(Published 23 October 2023, 19:01 IST)