Another Israeli Hostage’s Body Recovered, the Death Angering His Family

The Israeli military said on Saturday that it had recovered the body of an Israeli hostage who was abducted during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, almost six months after he was taken hostage.

The man, identified as Elad Katzir, 47, was a farmer in Nir Oz, a kibbutz near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip that was one of the areas hardest hit in the attack on Oct. 7, in which 1,200 Israelis died and about 250 people were taken hostage, according to the Israeli authorities. His body was recovered by troops in Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza where the Israeli army has been operating since December, and returned to Israel overnight, the military said.

After the announcement of the recovery and return of Mr. Katzir’s body, Mr. Katzir’s sister, Carmit, bitterly denounced the Israeli government in a social media post for failing to secure her brother’s release.

“He could have been saved if there had been a deal in time,” she wrote. “But our leadership are cowards, motivated by political considerations, and thus it did not happen.

“Your story shouldn’t have ended like this,” she wrote to her brother. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save you. I love you forever.”

Mr. Katzir was killed in mid-January, an Israeli military official told a press briefing on Saturday, while being held in Gaza by a militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Around 8 p.m. on Friday night, the official said, Israeli forces arrived in southern Khan Younis, isolated the area and excavated his body from where he was buried underground.

In an interview with The New York Times in 2009, after Palestinian rocket attacks led to a deadly three-week Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza, Mr. Katzir said that he felt a nagging unease in Nir Oz, where he was born.

“I do not feel any victory,” Mr. Katzir said at the time, when the fighting had ended with a shaky cease-fire. “I still do not feel safe.”

On Oct. 7, Mr. Katzir sent voice messages to a local WhatsApp group intended for emergencies: There were terrorists in the kibbutz, he said, and they were moving from house to house. “We need help as soon as possible.”. No such help was forthcoming as the Israeli military struggled to regain control of towns and major junctions near Gaza.

Islamic Jihad released at least two videos of Mr. Katzir during his captivity. In the last, in early January, he said he had been held for more than 90 days and described hearing on the radio of the death of a close friend from Nir Oz.

The recovery of Mr. Katzir’s body added another tragic chapter to a grim saga for both the residents of Nir Oz and the Katzir family. On Oct. 7, over a quarter of the more than 400 residents of Nir Oz, were either killed or abducted in the attack, among them Mr. Katzir’s father, Avraham, who was killed, and his mother, Hanna, who was taken hostage, according to the Israeli military.

Hanna Katzir, 76, was released in November as part of a brief cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, in which more than 100 hostages were returned. Her reappearance stunned some of her family members, because Palestinian Islamic Jihad had earlier claimed that she was dead.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has resisted increasingly urgent pleas from President Biden and other world leaders to agree to a cease-fire to facilitate the return of the hostages, insisting that only continued “military pressure” on Hamas will force the group to come to the table.

His recalcitrance has infuriated the families of many of the hostages who, fearing that their loved ones could be killed by their captors or by errant Israeli fire, have demanded more immediate action.

In a vigil in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on Saturday night, the families of several hostages families said the Israeli government was running out of time to save their loved ones from Mr. Katzir’s fate. “Spare the other families the bitter news received by the Katzir family, and give us the one joyful message we have been longing for these past six months,” said Nissim Kalderon, whose brother Ofer was also abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct 7.

“Make the decision and bring them home,” he said.

Palestinian militants still hold about 100 living hostages in the enclave, the Israeli authorities say, and more than 30 others are now presumed dead.

Over the past several weeks, Israel and Hamas have resumed indirect negotiations over a possible cease-fire and the release of at least some hostages. In a statement on Telegram on Saturday, Hamas said that a delegation of its leadership would travel to Cairo on Sunday for further negotiations.

On Friday, President Biden sent messages to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar — who act as intermediaries between Hamas and Israel — urging them to increase pressure on Hamas to make a deal. He has pressed Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to do the same.

After Israeli drone strikes this week killed six foreign nationals and a Palestinian working for the charity group World Central Kitchen, the Biden administration threatened “policy changes” unless Mr. Netanyahu took immediate steps to alleviate the hunger crisis in Gaza and to better protect civilians and aid workers.

In the six months since the Oct. 7 attack, more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and many who remain alive are desperate for aid and food as famine looms over Gaza’s population.

In response to Washington’s prodding, the Israeli government said on Friday that it would allow the “temporary delivery” of aid through the port of Ashdod in Israel and the Erez crossing, a checkpoint between Israel and northern Gaza. But it did not say when those new routes would open or how much aid could pass through them. COGAT, the Israeli agency that supervises aid deliveries into Gaza, did not respond to questions.

Israel also said it would enable more aid from Jordan to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south.

The Erez crossing has been closed since Oct. 7, and it was not immediately clear what infrastructure might need to be put in place to facilitate Israeli security checks on food and supplies there. Before the war, the crossing was used by pedestrians, not for the transport of goods. Moving aid through Erez into northern Gaza is likely to present logistical hurdles because most aid for the enclave has been stored in El Arish in Egypt, on Gaza’s southern border.

The Israeli military was also on high alert Saturday after Iranian leaders vowed retribution for the Israeli strike in Syria that killed several senior Iranian commanders earlier this week.

Almost immediately after the attack, Iran’s leaders pledged to avenge the killings, and U.S. officials in Washington and the Middle East said they were bracing for possible Iranian retaliation.

On Saturday, the threats against Israel continued, as a second day of public funerals took place in Iran, in the hometowns of the seven members of the elite Quds Force killed in the Israeli attack on Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus, Syria.

The commander in chief of Iran’s armed forces, which includes the military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said during one of the funeral ceremonies on Saturday that Iran would respond to Israel and that it would “determine the time, place and method of the operation.” He added that the retaliation would be designed to inflict “maximum damage on the enemy.”

Israeli combat soldiers expecting to go on leave over the weekend have been ordered to remain at their stations, the Israeli military said, and additional reserve units have been called up to reinforce Israel’s air defense system.

Isabel Kershner, Ronen Bergman and Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.

Source link