A U.S. dual national who was among some 240 people seized during the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas in southern Israel has died in captivity in the Gaza Strip, a group representing hostages’ families said on Friday.
Gadi Haggai, 73, also held Israeli citizenship, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said. Drawing on various information sources, an Israeli government-appointed committee has been declaring some hostages dead in absentia.
The group did not give details or say how the information regarding Haggai’s death was obtained.
Haggai was the husband of Judith Weinstein Haggai, 70, who grew up in Canada and holds Canadian and American citizenship. Her whereabouts are not known.
Relatives have spoken to CBC News about the couple, who went missing at the Nir Oz kibbutz.
“We know that Gadi, more than likely based on information that we have … was killed,” niece Ali Weinstein told The National late last month. “Judith, we know that she was shot, but we don’t know her condition.”
Hamas has generally not confirmed these accounts, but has warned that “time is running out” for the hostages as the Palestinian militants’ war with Israel nears its 12th week.
According to an official Israeli tally, 129 people are still held in Gaza, after more than 100 were repatriated in a November truce or recovered during a military offensive. Twenty-two have been confirmed dead, the Israeli government has said, with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) admitting it mistakenly killed three hostages during an operation.
About 1,200 people were killed in the initial Hamas attack, according to Israeli tallies, including several Canadians.
During the Nov. 24-Dec. 1 humanitarian pause, 240 Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails.
In a statement on Thursday that dampened hopes of a breakthrough for another exchange of detainees, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller group also holding hostages in Gaza, rejected any future deals “except after a full cessation of aggression” by Israel.
Shelling reported near refugee camps
On the ground in Gaza, Israeli forces on Friday signalled they were widening their ground offensive with a new push, ordering residents of Al-Bureij, in central Gaza, to move south immediately.
Residents reported Israeli tank shelling of eastern areas of Al-Bureij, the subject of the latest military evacuation order.
Israeli forces have previously engaged with Hamas gunmen on the edges of Al-Bureij but have yet to thrust deeper into the built-up area, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.
Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported heavy shelling and airstrikes on Jabalia al-Balad and Jabalia refugee camp, in northern Gaza, and that Israeli vehicles were trying to advance from the western side of Jabalia amid the sound of gunfire.
Airsrikes were also reported in Khan Yunis and Rafah, in the south.
“After more than two months of the war, Israel’s indiscriminate strikes on Gaza have turned the north of the Strip into a pile of rubble,” medical charity MSF said in a post on X. “In Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, south Gaza, the dead and wounded continue to arrive almost every day… Nowhere is safe.”
Reports in Palestinian media and footage shared by Gazans on social media showed bodies scattered in the street and some buried under rubble around the Indonesian hospital in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza.
The Israeli military said in a statement its air force destroyed a long-range missile launch site in Juhor ad-Dik, central Gaza, from which, it said, “recent launches into Israeli territory were carried out” — a possible reference to an attack on Tel Aviv on Thursday.
In its latest update on casualties, Gaza’s health ministry said 20,057 Palestinians had been killed and 53,320 wounded in Israeli strikes since Oct. 7.
A report by a UN-backed body said the entire population of Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger. The risk of famine is increasing each day, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said.
Regional tensions high
The Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths but blamed Iran-backed Hamas for operating in densely populated areas or using civilians as human shields, an allegation the group denies.
Israel says 140 of its soldiers have been killed since it launched its ground incursion into Gaza on Oct. 20.
The war in Gaza has fuelled tensions at other regional faultlines.
Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah have repeatedly traded fire across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, and Houthi militants of Yemen, also Iran-backed, have attacked ships in the lower Red Sea, increasing the risks of trade disruption.
Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas rivals Fatah has limited self-rule.
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