Hamas has released two Israeli hostages, bringing the total number of people who have been freed to four.
The Palestinian militant group handed over Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Monday night.
The release comes shortly after two American hostages were freed on Friday. A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said the two hostages were released on humanitarian and health grounds following mediation efforts involving Qatar and Egypt.
Hamas released a video showing Lifshitz and Cooper being handed over to the ICRC. In the video, militants can be seen offering drinks and food to the elderly women, holding their hands and leading them to the Red Cross officials. Before the women walk away, Lifshitz reaches back to shake the hand of a militant, greeting him with the word “salam/şālóm”, which means “peace” in both Arabic and Hebrew.
The ICRC then took charge of transporting the two hostages by ambulance.
Sitting in a wheelchair, Lifschitz on Tuesday addressed the media. The 85-year old revealed that she had been beaten with sticks during her abduction, but that her captors had treated her “nicely” during her captivity. She mentioned that a doctor visited her and her fellow prisoners every two to three days.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the unconditional release of all hostages held in Gaza. Their immediate release has also been demanded by human rights organisations, international bodies and the families of the captives.
The first release of hostages took place last Friday when Hamas freed two American women, Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, following mediation by Qatar.
Hamas had previously said that they agreed to release two more hostages in addition to Judith and Natalie last Friday, but the offer was rejected by the Israeli authorities. Israel dismissed this as ‘lying propaganda’ and suggested that Hamas was trying to make itself look good.
Hamas is currently holding more than 200 hostages taken during its 7 October attack on Israel, in which 1,400 people were killed.
Families of the captives face an agonising dilemma as the Israeli military prepares for a ground invasion of the besieged Gaza Strip. Fearing that clashes could endanger their lives, some are urging the Israeli government to prioritise the release of hostages.
After Netenyahu’s declaration of war in response to the 7 October attack, Israel’s air strikes on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip have so far killed more than 5,000 Palestinians, 2,055 of whom are children. On Monday night and Tuesday morning, air strikes in the Gaza Strip resulted in the deaths of at least 140 people, according to Palestinian officials.