President Joe Biden confirmed that a 4-year-old American-Israeli dual citizen was among 13 hostages released by Hamas on Sunday as part of a hostage swap deal.
“Two days ago, two days ago, one of our fellow Americans, a little girl named Abigail, turned four years old. She spent her birthday, that birthday … held hostage by Hamas. Today, she’s free, and Jill and I, together with so many Americans, are praying for the fact that she is going to be alright. She’s free, and she’s in Israel now,” President Biden said.
The girl, Abigail Edan, appears to be the first U.S. citizen released by Hamas since the State Department-designated terrorist organization launched an attack on Israel in October.
“What she endured is unthinkable. Abigail was among 13 hostages released today from Gaza under the brokered and sustained through intensive U.S. diplomacy. She’s now safely in Israel. And we continue to press and expect for additional Americans will be released as well,” the president added in remarks at the White House. ” And we will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones.”
The child has a 6-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother who saw their parents being killed on Oct. 7 in the terrorist attack, according to a family member. Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail’s great-aunt, told CNN that the children hid inside a closet for 14 hours.
“She turned 4 just two days ago,” Biden administration adviser Jake Sullivan said of the girl in a CNN interview. “She has been through hell. She had her parents killed right in front of her and has been held hostage for the last several weeks.”
The release of the girl comes after a series of hostage releases since Friday amid a ceasefire between the Israeli military and Hamas. Since the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel has launched an unprecedented air and ground assault on Gaza, where Hamas is located and controls.
In all, nine children ages 17 and younger were on the list, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Sunday. Separately, Hamas told The Associated Press that it had released one of the Russian hostages it was holding “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and as a show of appreciation for Moscow’s position on the war.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told state-run TASS that “the holder of a Russian passport was released and handed over to the Red Cross” on Sunday and that “Russian diplomats will visit him as soon as possible.” The Russian-Israeli citizen was the first male hostage to be freed, according to reports.
Israel was to free 39 Palestinian prisoners later Sunday as part of the deal. A fourth exchange is expected on Monday—the last day of the ceasefire, during which a total of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners are to be freed. All are women and minors.
President Biden also said Sunday that his administration is aiming to extend the ceasefire to continue the release of more hostages.
“For weeks, I’ve been advocating the pause in the fighting for two purposes: to increase the assistance getting in to the Gaza civilians who need help, and to facilitate the release of hostages,” he said.
Ahead of the latest release, Mr. Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, where he spoke with troops. “We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day, we will return every one,” he said, adding that “we are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.” It was not immediately clear where he went inside Gaza.
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, although that figure could not be independently verified. The war has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack.
Hamas and other groups seized around 240 people during the incursion into southern Israel that ignited the war. Fifty-eight have been released, one was freed by Israeli forces, and two were found dead inside Gaza.
The ceasefire was brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States. Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed but has vowed to quickly resume its offensive once it ends. Mr. Sullivan said Sunday the United States is working “with all sides on the possibility that this deal gets extended to additional hostages beyond the initial 50.”
Speaking to CNN, Mr. Sullivan said that it is not clear whether the other U.S. citizens who were captured by Hamas are still alive.
“We cannot say for certain whether all three of them are still alive. But we do know this: We have reason to believe that today, one American will be released,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times