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Israel recovers the bodies of 3 hostages

Israel says it has recovered the bodies of three people killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack that triggered the invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Israel's top military spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Friday the three were identified as Shani Louk, Amit Buskila and Yitzhak Gelernter. He said they had been killed by the Palestinian militants when they attacked a music festival in southern Israel and their bodies taken into Gaza.

Israel says more than 130 hostages remain inside Gaza, a quarter of whom are believed to be dead. More than 240 people were taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack, when hundreds of Palestinian militants broke through the fencing surrounding Gaza and attacked Israeli communities and a music festival being held nearby. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the resulting war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and the Gaza Strip has been reduced to ruins.

All three of those recovered were at the Nova music festival when they were killed. Hundreds of revelers were gunned down at the open-air music event, while Hamas-led militants also attacked a number of towns and villages near the Gaza border in what became the bloodiest single day in Israel's history.

Hagari did not give details about where the bodies were recovered, but the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that they had been retrieved in a joint operation by the Israeli military and Shin Bet, the intelligence agency.

The authorities had already confirmed the death of one of the hostages, Israeli-German citizen Shani Louk, in October, after recovering a bone fragment from the 23-year-old's skull. Footage of her body, half-naked and contorted in death after being slung in the back of a militants' truck, shocked the world as it circulated on social media in the immediate aftermath of the surprise attack.

However, the daughter of 57-year-old Yitzhak Gelernter said she had had no idea of the fate of her father until the authorities notified her that his body had been found, Israel's Channel 12 News reported.

"We held on to hope and had a lot of faith that the end would be different," said Yarden Pivko.

Amit Buskila, 28, was on the phone with her uncle during the attack, telling him that she was hiding from the gunmen behind some cars at the festival. Her uncle said he had heard her begging for her life before gunshots rang out, the Times of Israel reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that "the heart breaks for such a big loss. My wife Sarah and I are hurting with the families. All our hearts are with them at their time of heavy grief."

And he promised "we will return all of our hostages, living and dead. I congratulate our brave forces that in a determined action returned Israel's sons and daughters home."

Around half of the hostages seized in the October strike were returned during a week-long ceasefire in November, in return for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

But Netanyahu's government has been criticized by many hostage families since then for failing to secure another ceasefire and exchange deal, instead insisting that he would continue fighting until Hamas has been crushed.

Thousands of Israelis joined protests last weekend demanding a deal to bring the remaining hostages home, as well as for new elections and Netanyahu's resignation. More are expected to protest this weekend in Tel Aviv.

Copyright 2024 NPR

James Hider
James Hider is NPR's Middle East editor.
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