Two women held captive by Hamas in Gaza have been released, according to the Palestinian group and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
A spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas said the two captives were released following mediation from Qatar and Egypt.
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In a statement on Monday, spokesperson Abu Obeida said on the group’s Telegram channel that the captives had been released for “humanitarian reasons and poor health grounds.”
The release of the two hostages, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz and 79-year-old Nurit Cooper, was confirmed by the ICRC.
“We hope they will soon be back with their loved ones,” it said on X, formerly Twitter.
Hamas seized more than 200 people, including Israelis and dual nationals, during an assault on southern Israel on October 7. The Palestinian group killed more than 1,400 people, many of them civilians, during the attack, according to Israeli authorities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded the unconditional release of all hostages held in Gaza. Human rights groups, international organisations and families of those held captive have also called for their immediate release.
The first hostage release since the October 7 attack took place on Friday, with Hamas freeing two women with United States citizenship, Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, following mediation efforts by Qatar.
A Qatar foreign ministry spokesperson said that the release came “after many days of continuous communication” with all involved parties.
Obeida had previously stated that Hamas offered to free two additional captives alongside Judith and Natalie last Friday, but were rebuffed by Israeli authorities.
Israel has called that claim “mendacious propaganda” and suggested that Hamas is seeking to improve its image as harrowing stories of Hamas gunmen killing Israeli civilians, some using gruesome methods, are met with strong condemnation around the world.
With the Israeli military preparing for an expected ground invasion of the besieged Gaza Strip, the families of those kidnapped and taken captive have been confronted with painful dilemmas, with some urging the Israeli government to prioritise freeing hostages while others say they understand the emphasis on attacking Hamas.
“We need to talk to Hamas. We can’t always resort to war. We have so many Palestinian prisoners we can swap for our people,” Carmel Gorni, a political activist whose cousin Yiftah Gorni was killed in the assault, told the news outlet Reuters.
“If our soldiers go in, many people will die, including the hostages.”
According to a report in the New York Times, the US is pressing Israel to delay a ground assault in order to allow for more time to secure the release of those held captive.
Israel has been accused of showing disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians in its response to the attack by Hamas, cutting off access to food, water, fuel, and electricity to Gaza’s 2.3 million residents as it carries out a relentless campaign of air strikes that have levelled entire neighbourhoods and brought humanitarian conditions to a breaking point.
More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment, according to Palestinian authorities.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies