(JTA) — Israel is investigating Hamas’ claim that its youngest hostages, brothers Kfir and Ariel Bibas, are dead, along with their mother Shiri.
The Bibas family became an early face of the hostage crisis after Hamas released a video showing Shiri holding her sons while being taken captive. Kfir, who is 10 months old, has become a symbol of the campaign for the hostages’ release. His brother Ariel is 4.
Hamas took some 240 hostages in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which the terror group killed 1,200 and wounded thousands. Hamas has since released more than 80 hostages, with most of them going free since Friday as part of agreements with Israel and other countries that have also included a temporary pause in the fighting in Gaza. Several more hostages are known to have died in captivity.
Although most of the child hostages have been freed under the agreement with Israel, the Bibas family was not among those who have been returned to Israel and was not on the list of hostages slated for release Wednesday, a family representative said early in the day.
Shortly afterward, Hamas said the two brothers had been killed along with their mother in an Israeli airstrike. Israel did not immediately confirm or refute the claim but said it was investigating what it called a “cruel and inhumane” allegation. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, was reportedly meeting with representatives of the family when Hamas made the claim.
“Our family has learned of Hamas’ latest claims,” the family said in a statement. “We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials. We thank the people of Israel for their warm support, but kindly request privacy during this difficult time.”
At least one other Israeli hostage who has been released, 77-year-old Hannah Katzir, had previously been claimed by a different faction in Gaza to have been killed.
There have been no Israeli airstrikes in Gaza since Friday, when Israel and Hamas reached a deal in which groups of hostages would be released daily in exchange for a cessation of hostilities and a release of Palestinian security prisoners in Israel.
Hamas said earlier this week that it had handed the family to a different faction within Gaza. Israeli authorities have said they believed that the family, which also includes the boys’ father Yarden, was being held somewhere in Khan Younis, the southern Gaza city.