ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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US seeking answers after Chicago brothers, Louisiana mom detained in Gaza, West Bank

Relatives of Borak and Hashem Alagha allege family was tied up during overnight raid on home in al-Mawasi refugee camp; woman held over social media posts backing Hamas

This undated image provided by Yasmeen Elagha shows Elagha, right, with her cousin Borak Alagha. Relatives of Borak Alagha, 28, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two American brothers trapped in Gaza, say Israeli forces have detained the two US citizens, along with their Canadian father, in a raid on their home early Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Yasmeen Elagha via AP)
This undated image provided by Yasmeen Elagha shows Elagha, right, with her cousin Borak Alagha. Relatives of Borak Alagha, 28, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two American brothers trapped in Gaza, say Israeli forces have detained the two US citizens, along with their Canadian father, in a raid on their home early Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Yasmeen Elagha via AP)

The White House said Thursday it was seeking more information from Israeli authorities about two young adult American brothers detained in Gaza and the arrest of an American woman in the West Bank.

Borak Alagha, 18, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two brothers born in the Chicago area, were detained along with their Canadian father in Gaza, relatives said Thursday.

On Monday, Samaher Esmail, 46, was taken from her home in the West Bank and detained. The Israeli military said she had been arrested for “incitement on social media” and held for questioning.

“Just processing this information,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said at a press conference Thursday. “We want to know more about the reasons here.”

He said the US was taking the matter seriously.

“We’ll be talking to our Israeli counterparts trying to get more information here, more context about what happened,” he said.

An Israeli soldier watches protesters block the path for humanitarian aid bound for the Gaza Strip at the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt in southern Israel Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

The Alaghas are among fewer than 50 US citizens known to still be trying to leave sealed-off Gaza, as the Israel-Hamas war enters its fifth month. Numerous other US green-card holders and close relatives of the citizens and permanent residents also are still struggling and unable to leave, despite US requests, according to their American families and advocates.

Cousin Yasmeen Elagha, a law student at Northwestern University, said Israeli forces entered the family home in the community of al-Muwasi, near the southern city of Khan Younis, around 5 a.m. Gaza time on Thursday.

The soldiers tied up and blindfolded the women and children in the family, and placed them outside the home, the cousin said.

A picture taken from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke rising over buildings in Khan Younis in the distance, following Israeli bombardment on February 5, 2024 as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The two American brothers, their Canadian citizen father, a mentally disabled uncle and two other adult male relatives were taken away by the Israelis, and remain missing, Elagha said.

Men of a neighboring household were also taken away. So were other adult male relatives of another Alagha household, for a total of about 20 detained, she added.

A family social media account from Gaza also described the detentions.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry and military had no immediate comment.

State Department spokespeople in Washington had no immediate comment on the reported detention of the American brothers.

US officials say they have helped 1,300 Americans, green-card holders and their eligible close family members to leave Gaza since October 7, when surprise Hamas attacks killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel. Hamas also took 253 hostages, with several dozen still being held in Gaza.

State Department officials have not publicly given a number for how many people for whom the US has requested permission to leave remain in Gaza, citing the “fluidity” of the situation.

The only authorized exit from Gaza is through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The exit list is controlled by Israel and Egypt. US authorities say they are working with the two US allies to get more of the names of Americans, US residents and their close kin who are seeking to leave placed on the list. The Alagha brothers’ family says they are among those who have been unable to get their names on the exit lists.

Israeli security forces in the course of the war have rounded up large numbers of Palestinian military-age men in Gaza, later releasing some. Israel says the mass detentions are a necessary part of fighting Hamas. Palestinians say Israel is unjustly including large numbers of civilian adult males in the sweeps.

Both the brothers and Esmail were taken into custody during the same time US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region to try to mediate a cease-fire and hostage release deal with ally Israel and regional Arab leaders.

Relatives of Esmail, from Louisiana, said that Israeli soldiers burst into the woman’s house while she was sleeping in the early hours of Monday and pulled her out of bed in the West Bank town of Silwad.

A video of the incident posted to Twitter by her son showed soldiers surrounding her and herding her into an armored vehicle.

Although the IDF did not elaborate on the nature of her alleged incitement, a Facebook profile that appears to be Esmail’s contained an image of her smiling next to text spelling out the date of Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel. She could also be seen posing with a rifle and she posted videos openly supporting Hamas terrorist action, according to The Guardian.

The US Embassy in Israel said Thursday it had no updates on her case.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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