Middle East

Israel assessing Hamas claim youngest hostage and family members are dead

By Eyad Kourdi, Jeremy Diamond and Tamar Michaelis, CNN

CNN  — 

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it was assessing a Hamas claim that the youngest Israeli hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his brother and his mother are dead.

The armed wing of Hamas said earlier Wednesday, without providing evidence, that Kfir, his four-year-old brother, Ariel, and their mother, Shiri, were killed in an Israeli airstrike. The armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said they had been killed in an earlier Israeli bombing.

The IDF responded with a statement saying they were “assessing the accuracy of the information.” It said they had spoken to the relatives of the Bibas family and “are with them at this difficult time.”

“Hamas is wholly responsible for the security of all hostages in the Gaza Strip. Hamas must be held accountable. Hamas’ actions continue to endanger the hostages, which include nine children. Hamas must immediately release our hostages,” the IDF said.

Minutes after the Hamas claim emerged, a senior Israeli official who was holding a briefing at the time said “I hope it’s not true,” and “we have no indication they’re murdered.”

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, Jimmy Miller, Shiri’s cousin, said the IDF had informed the family of Hamas’ claim.

“Hamas took them alive, Hamas is the one responsible for their health, and Hamas need to return them back to us alive. We don’t care if they transferred them to someone else, or to another entity, they are (exclusively) responsible to bring them back to us alive and well,” Miller said.

The Bibas family later confirmed it had “learned of Hamas’ latest claims,” according to a statement from the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum.

“We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials. We thank the people of Israel for their warm support, but kindly request privacy during this difficult time,” they said.

bibas family

IDF chief spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said earlier in the week that the IDF did not believe the boys and their mother were in the hands of Hamas.

There has been no Israeli bombing of Gaza since a ceasefire began on Friday morning.

Kfir, Ariel and Shiri Bibas, and presumably their father Yarden were all kidnapped from Nir Oz, an Israeli kibbutz that was devastated when it came under attack by Hamas militants on October 7. The attackers murdered more than a quarter of the community and seized scores of others, as they fired at people’s homes, looted and destroyed what they could.

In an interview with CNN Tuesday, Eylon Keshet pleaded for the release of his cousin, Yarden, and the rest of the Bibas family.

“They shouldn’t be kept like this. It’s inhumane. It’s so scary,” said a visibly upset Keshet.

Holding up posters of Kfir and Ariel, he asked: “Are these the enemies of Hamas? Are these the enemies of anyone? Should these children be used as bargaining chips? … There is no justification for using them like this. We just want them back, really.”

Hamas’ claim came as negotiators were working toward another potential extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas, now into its sixth day. A spokesperson for the Qatari foreign ministry told CNN that Qatar – which has played a crucial role in brokering the truce agreement – is “very optimistic” an extension will be announced.

Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother Yarden (34) was taken hostage with his wife Shiri (32) and 2 children Kfir (10 months) and Ariel (4),  holds with her friend Tal Ulus pictures of them during an interview with Reuters, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, in Geneva, Switzerland, November 13, 2023. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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