The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it had notified the family of a mother and two young children kidnapped to Gaza that it was investigating a “cruel and inhumane” Hamas statement claiming the three had been killed.
The statement by Hamas’s military wing asserted Shiri Bibas, 32, and her children, four-year-old Ariel and 10-month-old Kfir, were killed in an Israeli strike during the war in the Strip. It did not say when this had allegedly occurred (a pause in fighting has been in place since November 24).
Gaza terror groups have made such claims regarding hostages in the past, seen as part of a psychological warfare campaign.
“The Hamas terror organization continues to act in a cruel and inhumane manner,” the IDF said.
The military stressed that Hamas bears responsibility for the safety of all the hostages held in the Gaza Strip, even those held by other factions.
“Hamas is endangering the hostages, including nine children. Hamas is required to immediately return them to Israel,” the statement read.
The Bibas family, including 10-months-old Kfir, 4-year-old Ariel and their mother Shiri were abducted by Hamas on October 7.
Hamas must be held accountable.
Hamas must release all hostages immediately. pic.twitter.com/aizQ6M0Yp2
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) November 29, 2023
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, who happened to be meeting with members of the Bibas family when Hamas issued its claim, said on Wednesday night that he did not know if it was true or psychological warfare. “There is no confirmation” of the claim, he said. “We will continue to seek intelligence and other indications” in order to determine its veracity.
The three family members were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, along with Shiri’s husband and the father of the two boys, Yarden Bibas, 34, as Hamas terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages.
The family believes that Yarden, who was seen bleeding from the head as he was taken hostage, is being held separately from his wife and children.
The family has become one of the most recognizable groups of hostages and held up by many as proof of the extent of Hamas’s cruelty. A video that emerged of Shiri carrying her children as she was taken away by the terrorists quickly gained attention due to her visible distress, the children’s bright red hair (which has led the kids to be popularly nicknamed “the redheads”) and Kfir’s young age — being the youngest Israeli abducted by Hamas.
While some 60 women and children have been released over the past five days as part of a temporary ceasefire deal, hopes that the Bibas family would be among them have been dashed day after day.
In total, 31 children have been released as part of the deal, but nine still remained in the hands of Gazan terrorists as of Wednesday afternoon, including Ariel and Kfir.
The other seven have been identified as Gali Tarshansky, 13; Amit Shani, 16; Ofir Engel, 18; Liam Or, 18; Itay Regev, 18; and Bilal and Aisha Ziyadne, aged 18 and 17.
On Tuesday, IDF Arabic-language spokesman Avichai Adraee confirmed via X, formerly Twitter, that the mother and her two children were transferred by Hamas to another terror group inside the Gaza Strip and that they were believed to be held in the southern city of Khan Younis.
That group has been reported to be the small Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
“Children and babies under the age of one who have not seen the light of day for more than 50 days are being held captive by Hamas, [which] treats some of them as loot and in some cases has transferred them to other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip,” he wrote.
Since the time the young family was taken hostage, their relatives have been campaigning both in Israel and abroad to raise awareness of their plight.
Following Hamas’s claim regarding the death of Shiri and her two children, her cousin Jimmy Miller said the family holds Hamas responsible for their well-being, regardless of whether or not they were the ones holding them hostage.
“Hamas abducted them alive. Hamas is solely responsible for their well-being. Hamas must return them to us alive,” Miller told Channel 12 news. “We’re not interested in whether they transferred them to somebody else or to some other group. Hamas is solely responsible for returning them to us alive, healthy and intact… Make no mistake.”
He also said Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar was responsible for their well-being, and said that the family “are waiting for an official announcement” from the IDF as to whether the group’s claim is “true or not, or another kind of trick that Hamas is playing on us.”
Another terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, previously announced that hostage Channa Katzir had died, only for her to be freed in the first hostage release Friday.
Miller stressed that the family has seen the video of Shiri and her two sons being abducted alive from Kibbutz Nir Oz, “and we have absolutely no doubt that they reached Gaza alive. And we want to see them back here alive, the sooner the better.”
Miller also noted that father Yarden was abducted separately to Gaza, taken on a motorbike, and seen in video being beaten on the head with hammers en route.
“We are not sure that they reached Gaza together; we think [the terrorists] separated them,” he added.
He said the family gets up every morning hoping they will be returned in each day’s releases, and have been gravely disappointed that they have not been.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday morning, Eylon Keshet, a cousin of the family, spoke about the urgent need for their release.
“We are really, really worried about him,” said Keshet, holding a photo of 10-month-old Kfir. “We are not sure if he can make it. Every day that he is staying there is a real, real danger to his life.”