4-year-old Israeli American hostage is released
Nov 26, 2023, 2:32 PM
(Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images)
(CNN) — Abigail Edan, the 4-year-old American dual citizen abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7, has been released – marking the first successful release of an American hostage since the start of a truce between Israel and Hamas. Edan is one of the 17 hostages released Sunday.
President Joe Biden welcomed Abigail’s release, saying in a speech from Nantucket, Massachusetts, that she is receiving love, care and “the supportive services she needs” and adding that he was “hopeful this is not the end of the temporary truce.”
Biden said the girl “has been through a terrible trauma.” Her mother was killed in front of her, the president said. She then ran to her father, Biden said, who used his body to shield his daughter and was killed.
“What she endured was unthinkable,” he said. Biden added that Abigail was now in Israel but said that he did not have details on her condition.
Abigail will be taken to Schneider Children’s Medical Center, where the other child hostages have been transferred, a spokesperson with the Hostage and Missing Families Forum told CNN.
President Biden in touch with the child’s family
Biden spoke with Abigail’s family Sunday afternoon, the White House said.
“This afternoon, following the release of Abigail Edan by Hamas, President Biden spoke by phone with members of Abigail’s family in the United States and Israel,” the White House said in a statement.
Biden also spoke with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Sunday, the White House said. The two leaders discussed “the latest developments in Israel and Gaza and the recent release of hostages, including Abigail Edan, by Hamas.”
Abigail’s great-aunt and cousin thanked Biden, the Qatari government and other “informal actors” involved in releasing hostages held by Hamas in a joint statement Sunday.
“We hoped and prayed today would come. There are no words to express our relief and gratitude that Abigail is safe and coming home,” Liz Hirsh Naftali and Noa Naftali said in the statement.
“We will continue to stand with the families of all the hostages still held captive, and we remain committed as ever to securing their safe and swift return,” they added.
US officials believed that Abigail was being held in the northern part of Gaza along with her neighbors, and throughout the negotiations pushed for Abigail – along with two other American women – to be included on an early list of hostages to be released, a senior administration official said.
On Sunday, the US was able to track the girl’s movements through Gaza to the hands of Red Cross officials and into Israel. Biden spoke with his senior advisers throughout the process, but there was no “sigh of relief until she crossed the border and was safely in Israel,” the official said.
Two American women who are unaccounted for are also expected to be part of the group of 50 women and children hostages released as part of a four-day truce, now in its third day.
No Americans were released as part of the deal on Friday or Saturday. There are 10 Americans who are unaccounted for at this time.
Twenty-four hostages – including 13 Israeli civilians and 11 foreign nationals – were freed on Friday, followed by 17 more – 13 Israelis and four Thai nationals – on Saturday as part of the brokered deal between Hamas and Israel. All 41 foreign nationals released by Hamas from captivity in Gaza are stable, according to medical professionals.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash that it is difficult to know the true status of the Americans who were taken captive in Gaza during Hamas’ brutal cross-border assault on October 7.
“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 earlier Sunday on “State of the Union.”
Omer Neutra, a dual US-Israeli citizen, is among the Israel Defense Forces soldiers kidnapped by Hamas, his parents have told CNN. Sullivan said he has been “candid” with Neutra’s parents and the parents of other American hostages.
“I told them directly … that we do not know the specific whereabouts or condition of Omer or other Americans because until the end of this deal, until the end of tomorrow we will not have, from the Red Cross, proof of life or other information,” Sullivan said.
Red Cross to visit remaining hostages
Sullivan also spoke about Hamas agreeing to allow the Red Cross to visit the remaining hostages in Gaza and said the US is leaning on Qatari and Egyptian officials to ensure that happens by the end of Monday.
“We do believe that Hamas has obliged to maintain its part of the commitment on Red Cross visitation of the hostages and we expect Qatar and Egypt and other countries to hold Hamas accountable to hold that commitment by the end of tomorrow,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Israel is prepared to extend the pause in fighting in exchange for Hamas releasing 10 hostages each day, adding, “The ball is really in Hamas’ court.”
“If Hamas wants to see an extension of the pause in fighting, it can continue to release hostages,” Sullivan said. “If it chooses not to release hostages, then the end of the pause is its responsibility, not Israel’s, because it is holding these hostages completely illegitimately and against all bounds of human decency or the laws of war, so really we will see what Hamas ends up choosing to do.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday that in the original agreement there would be an extra day of ceasefire for every 10 hostages released. But he said it was up to Hamas to free more hostages.
“It was agreed in the original agreement, which has been violated constantly by Hamas but still implemented piecemeal, that if they bring another 10 prisoners or so … there will be an extension of another day of humanitarian pause,” Herzog said.
While Israeli officials work to care for the released hostages and reunite them with their families, Sullivan said, they will also look to glean any information about Hamas in hostage debriefings on their time in captivity.
“Israel is focused on learning anything it can about whereabouts, locations and other information based on conversations they have with the released hostages in the days ahead,” he said.
Humanitarian aid into Gaza
Sullivan also detailed some of the inspection mechanisms involved with getting humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Before aid goes into the Rafah crossing into Gaza, Sullivan said, it is checked by Israelis “to make sure that it is in fact humanitarian supplies and not goods that could help Hamas in its military campaign.”
The aid trucks then go to United Nations depots and other humanitarian organizations that, he said, are “vetted and trusted partners.”
From there, he said, the aid is “distributed directly to the people.”
“As humanitarian assistance has ramped up, we’ve seen it work – that it’s actually getting to people and that it’s not being diverted into the hands of Hamas,” Sullivan said.
The United Nations said Friday that 137 trucks carrying aid, including 129,000 liters of fuel and four trucks of gas, were offloaded in Gaza on the first day of the pause, marking the largest humanitarian convoy to enter the strip since October 7. Another 70 trucks carrying food, water, fuel and medical supplies entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing on Saturday, according to a border crossing spokesperson.
Biden is in “close touch” with Israel and UN leadership to ensure “the aid is getting to where it belongs, which is the innocent people who are suffering.”