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Israel recovers bodies of 3 hostages taken Oct. 7

Israeli forces have recovered the bodies of three Israeli hostages who were taken captive as they fled a music festival during the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, the Israeli military announced today.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesperson, identified the bodies as those of Amit Buskila, Shani Louk and Yitzhak Gelernter. He said Israeli troops had recovered the bodies during an operation in the Gaza Strip on Thursday night but did not say where they were found.

All three had attended the Tribe of Nova trance music festival Oct. 7, where at least 360 people were killed, Hagari said. During the attack, they fled the festival and headed toward Mefalsim, a kibbutz in southern Israel. Palestinian militants found them there, killed them and brought their corpses back to Gaza, Hagari said.

The recovery of the remains highlighted the growing anxiety among relatives of hostages over how many of their loved ones are still alive after seven months of war in Gaza. A growing number of Israelis have criticized the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for doing too little to reach a deal with Hamas to secure the release of the remaining captives.

Roughly 125 living and dead hostages abducted Oct. 7 remain in Gaza, including several U.S. citizens, according to Israeli authorities. Israel and Hamas have held indirect negotiations in an attempt to reach a deal that would free at least some hostages in exchange for a cease-fire.

Louk, a 23-year-old German Israeli citizen, became a symbol of the brutality of the devastating attack. Shortly after Oct. 7, Hamas released a video of a woman lying face down, mostly naked, in the back of a pickup truck in Gaza. Based on the dreadlocks and tattoos, Louk’s mother said she believed it was her daughter.

In late October, Louk’s family said Israeli authorities had confirmed she had been killed. Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, publicly mourned her death, saying at the time that it “shows the full barbarity behind the Hamas attack — who must be held accountable.”

Buskila, who was 27 when she was abducted, called her family on the morning of the attack, whispering to them that she was “surrounded by terrorists,” her uncle, Shimon Atiyas, told Israeli television in late October. “She told me, ‘Shimon, I’m dying. I love you.’ After that, we didn’t get any information about her fate.”

Gelernter, who went by the nickname Itzik, was a resident of central Israel who was 56 on Oct. 7. His son, Asaf, described him in an interview with Israeli news media in February as a devoted father and grandfather who was widely beloved. “He was young at heart,” Asaf Gelernter said. He added, “He enjoyed life. He loved life.”

In a statement, Netanyahu mourned the “terrible loss” of the three hostages. “We will return all of our hostages, the living and the deceased alike,” Netanyahu said.

A senior Hamas official, Izzat Al-Rishq, declined to confirm whether the hostages had indeed been recovered by Israel. But he said their return to Israel was another sign of “the weakness of their military’s performance” after over seven months of fighting in Gaza.

“Without an exchange that dignifies our people and our resistance, the enemy will only receive its prisoners as lifeless corpses,” Al-Rishq said in a statement published on the Telegram messaging app.

Israeli soldiers and intelligence officers recovered the bodies of the hostages during a mission based on intelligence obtained from interrogating detained Palestinian militants, the Israeli military said in a statement.

For months, Israel and Hamas have been negotiating indirectly through mediators over a cease-fire deal that would secure the release of the remaining hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. In late November, 105 hostages were freed during a weeklong truce between the two sides.

Just two weeks ago, officials familiar with the talks voiced hope that a deal could be reached soon. But the negotiations have stalled, and the two sides remain far apart on key issues, including Israel’s insistence that it still plans to carry out a massive assault on the southern city of Rafah.

“The return of their bodies is a painful and stark reminder that we must swiftly bring back all our brothers and sisters from their cruel captivity,” said the Hostage Families Forum Headquarters, a group representing many relatives of those held captive. “The living for rehabilitation, and the murdered to a proper burial.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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