A 4-year-old American-Israeli girl, Abigail Edan, was among 17 hostages released on the third day of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
During an eight-minute news conference in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on Sunday, President Joe Biden responded to Abigail's release, signifying the first successful liberation of an American hostage since the ceasefire began, according to the White House.
Abigail, who was abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7, was handed over to Red Cross officials. She was orphaned during the conflict that led to her capture, with her parents killed by Hamas terrorists on the day of her abduction. The young girl celebrated her fourth birthday while in captivity.
Her siblings, a 6-year-old sister and a 10-year-old brother, witnessed the murder of their parents and hid for 14 hours to escape the same fate, as recounted by Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail’s great-aunt, according to CNN.
In addition to Abigail, 16 other hostages were released: 13 Israelis and three foreign nationals. An elderly woman in poor condition was airlifted to a hospital for treatment in Israel, while the others were escorted through the border fence from Gaza to Israel.
At Sunday’s news conference, Biden emphasized the aim to extend the four-day military pause to facilitate the release of more hostages and increase humanitarian aid into Gaza. He acknowledged the uncertainty of the situation, noting it’s a day-by-day, hour-by-hour process with no guarantees. The president added that the agreement was that "for every 10 hostages released, we extend [the pause] another day."
He highlighted the emotional impact of the ceasefire, referencing the joy and relief of families reuniting, including the release of Abigail and over 20 other children thus far.
Biden also mentioned his collaboration with the Emir of Qatar, President Sisi of Egypt and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, expressing gratitude for their partnership in the deal and efforts to extend it.
Regarding the status of other American hostages, Biden expressed hope but lacked definitive updates. He added he was unsure about the exact number of militant groups holding American hostages.
Biden said regional players, even those not directly involved, are seeking an end to the conflict, with the ultimate goal of releasing all hostages and removing Hamas’ control in Gaza.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office revealed that the Israeli hostages ranged in age from 4 to 84, including nine children aged 17 and younger.
As part of the ceasefire agreement, Israel is set to release 39 Palestinian prisoners on Sunday.
A fourth exchange is anticipated on Monday, marking the last day of the ceasefire. This four-day exchange is expected to involve a total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners, all of whom are women and minors.
Hamas' release of 17 hostages on Sunday came a day after 13 Israelis were released Saturday in return for another 39 prisoners. On Friday, 24 hostages — 13 Israelis, 10 Thais, and one Filipino — were returned to Israel, again in return for 39 Palestinian prisoners.
It brings the total number of hostages released during the window to 54 and the number of prisoners freed to 117.
Efforts led by the U.S., Qatar, and other international mediators are underway to extend the ceasefire. Ahead of the latest release, Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, emphasizing Israel’s commitment to retrieving all hostages and achieving victory.
The ceasefire, brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States, has brought a pause to seven weeks of intense conflict sparked by Hamas' terrorist attacks in Israel and the slaughter of 1,200 people, including 31 Americans, and thousands more wounded. Israeli airstrikes have resulted in some 10,000 fatalities in Gaza, according to Hamas, which has stopped many Palestinians from fleeing areas the Israeli Defense Forces are targeting to drive up the number of casualties. The death toll in Gaza has not been confirmed.
In a related development, Hamas announced the death of Ahmed al-Ghandour, a top commander in charge of northern Gaza and a member of its military council. Al-Ghandour, around 56 years old, had been involved in numerous militant activities, including a 2006 cross-border attack.
The Israeli military confirmed his death along with three other senior militants, including Ayman Siam, head of Hamas' rocket-firing unit. These deaths occurred during an Israeli operation targeting an underground complex used by Hamas leaders.