Kibbutz Nir Oz announced Friday that three of its residents who had been taken hostage by the Hamas terror group in the October 7 assault have died in captivity.
The kibbutz named them as Aryeh Zalmanovich, 85, the oldest of the 240 people kidnapped by Hamas, Maya Goren, 56, a legendary kindergarten teacher in the community, and Ronen Engel, 54, whose wife and two daughters were returned to Israel earlier this week after being abducted alongside him.
The Israel Defense Forces later confirmed their deaths, along with that of fellow Nir Oz resident Eliyahu Margalit, 75, whose daughter was released from Hamas captivity on Thursday.
“We are continuing to invest many intelligence and operational efforts, to bring information on the conditions of the hostages,” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said during a press conference. ”
Hagari added the four’s deaths were declared “based on findings that were collected, and intelligence.”
As part of its campaign of psychological warfare, Hamas released a video last month of Zalmanovich that raised questions about his well-being.
Zalmanovich was taken hostage from his home in Nir Oz on October 7 and was not heard from since. Before being kidnapped, he managed to text one of his sons informing him that terrorists had infiltrated the kibbutz.
He was one of the kibbutz’s founding members and worked as a farmer there for decades.
“Aryeh was all his life a man of the earth, engaged in agriculture and farming,” Nir Oz said in their announcement. “He was a man of books and had extensive knowledge in the fields of history and the land of Israel.”
Zalmanovich was born in Haifa and in 1955 was part of the group that founded Nir Oz. He would work in agriculture there for the rest of his life.
He is survived by two sons and five grandchildren.
The kibbutz also said that Goren was murdered in captivity. Her body remains with Hamas.
Goren, a teacher in Nir Oz, was setting up the kibbutz’s kindergarten space on the morning of October 7 when the Hamas attack erupted. Her husband, Avner, was murdered inside the couple’s home.
The couple are survived by four children, ages 18, 21, 23 and 25.
Two of their children weren’t on the kibbutz at the time, while two live in housing for kibbutz teenagers, an area of the kibbutz that the terrorists didn’t reach.
Nir Oz announced that Engel was also murdered in captivity. His body is believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.
A statement from the kibbutz said Engel was a photographer, volunteer in Magen David Adom and loved motorcycles.
“May his memory be a blessing,” the statement said.
Engel is survived by his wife Karina Engel-Bart, 51, and daughters Mika, 18, and Yuval, 11. The three were held in Gaza for 52 days before being released on Monday as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement. It is unknown whether the news on Engel’s fate was tied to his family’s release.
In the family’s last messages before being abducted on October 7, they said that they were hiding in their sealed room, aware of what was taking place on the grounds at Nir Oz.
Karina Engel-Bart was on the phone with her sister Paula when she suddenly said, “Paula, they’re here, they’re here.”
The call was cut short and all communication was lost.
Around midday, Ronen’s brother Dani was looking at his brother’s Facebook page, when he saw a new story posted: A video of a Hamas terrorist, smiling into the camera, saying something in Arabic.
The family’s phones were traced and located in Gaza and family members were told there were no signs of violence in the house, that it wasn’t burned and their dog was alive.
Eliyahu Margalit was last seen on the morning of October 7, when he went to feed his horses at Nir Oz. It remains unclear what Margalit’s condition was when he was abducted by terrorists.
His daughter Nili Margalit, 41, was taken hostage by Hamas terrorists at her Nir Oz home on October 7 and held in Gaza for 55 days before being released on Thursday.
Margalit, a nurse at Soroka Hospital, was in touch with several friends the morning of the attack. At the time, she was in her safe room with her dog and texted that the terrorists had been walking around “for hours.”
She reported that she was locked in her safe room and could hear gunfire outside.
After 9:12 a.m., there was no communication from her.
Her Nir Oz house was completely burned, and it took several weeks for the army to confirm that Margalit was taken hostage to Gaza.
Friday’s announcements come as the IDF resumed its Gaza offensive on Friday after the breakdown of a weeklong truce.
During the truce, 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity in Gaza, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and 1 Filipino, in exchange for 210 Palestinian prisoners, all of them women or minors. Israel also allowed an influx of humanitarian aid into the Strip.
Still held hostage by Gaza terror groups when the truce collapsed were 136 people — 114 men, 20 women and two children — government spokesperson Eylon Levy said. Ten of the hostages are 75 and older. The vast majority of the hostages, 125, are Israeli. Eleven are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand.
Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in Gaza after the October 7 assault on southern Israel in which some 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians, and some 240 taken hostage.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.