BY SEUNG MIN KIM AND COLLEEN LONG
NANTUCKET, Mass. (AP) — President Joe Biden confirmed Sunday that Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old American girl held hostage by Hamas after her parents were killed, was released as part of the cease-fire deal in the Israel-Hamas war.
“Thank God she’s home,” Biden said told reporters. “I wish I were there to hold her.”
Abigail has dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship, and Biden said she was “safely in Israel.” She was the first U.S. hostage to be released under terms of the cease-fire. Biden said he did not have immediate information on Abigail’s condition. The White House said later that the president spoke by telephone with members of the girl’s family in the United States and Israel. He also spoke with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hamas militants stormed Abigail’s kibbutz, Kfar Azza, on Oct. 7 and killed her parents. She ran to a neighbor’s home for shelter, and the Brodutch family — mother Hagar and her three children — took Abigail in as the rampage raged. Then all five disappeared and were later confirmed to be captives. They were among the more than 200 people taken to Gaza in the attack that touched off the war. Abigail had a birthday while she was held.
Two of Abigail’s family members on Sunday thanked Biden, the Qatari government and others involved in securing her release, saying in a statement they remain committed to the “safe and swift return” of all hostages.
“Today’s release proves that it’s possible. We can get all hostages back home. We have to keep pushing,” said Liz Hirsh Naftali and Noa Naftali, Abigail’s great aunt and cousin.
The Brodutch family was also in the group, ranging in age from 4 to 84, released Sunday. Red Cross representatives transferred the hostages out of Gaza. Some were handed over directly to Israel, while others left through Egypt. Israel’s army said one was airlifted directly to a hospital.
“They’ve endured a terrible ordeal,” Biden said, and can now begin the “long journey toward healing.”
According to the White House, Biden and Netanyahu agreed the work was not yet done. Biden described the negotiations as a day-by-day, hour-by-hour process and said he would continue working until all hostages were free.
“Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is being taken for granted. But the proof that this is working and worth pursuing further is in every smile and every grateful tear we see on the faces of those families who are finally getting back together again. The proof is little Abigail,” the president said.
Biden said in remarks from Nantucket, the Massachusetts islands where he spent Thanksgiving with his family, that the cease-fire agreement was “delivering lifesaving results.”
Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal Sunday. A fourth exchange was expected on Monday — the last day of the cease-fire during which a total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners were to be freed. All are women and minors.
Netanyahu issued a video statement after speaking with Biden. He talked about the happiness of bringing Abigail home, but also the sadness that her parents were killed. “She has no parents, but she has an entire nation that hugs her, and we will take care of all her needs,” he said.
Netanyahu reiterated his offer to extend the cease-fire by an additional day for every 10 hostages Hamas releases. But he also said Israel would resume its offensive against Hamas “with all of its power” once the cease-fire expires.
International mediators led by representatives from the United States and Qatar are trying to extend the cease-fire for as long as possible.
“Critically needed aid is going in and hostages are coming out,” Biden said. “And this deal is structured so that it can be extended to keep building on these results. That’s my goal, that’s our goal to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those who are in need in Gaza.”
Before the pause in fighting, the first hostages were released on Oct. 17 — Judith and Natalie Raanan, an American woman and her teenage daughter. Their release was regarded as a successful test-case for negotiating the larger deal, according to U.S. officials.
There are believed to be eight other U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident still held hostage. Two were women, seven were men. It’s not clear whether they are alive.
Biden said he was “hopeful” the others would be released. “We will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones,’’ he said.
The war has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, roughly two thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
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