Bodies of three hostages discovered as fighting continues in Rafah

Prospects for a ceasefire breakthrough remain low

The Israel Defence Forces announced on Friday that they had discovered three more bodies of hostages and brought them back to Israel for burial.

The hostages were named as Hanan Yablonka (42) and Orión Hernández Rado (30) a Mexican citizen, who were both fleeing from the Nova music festival, and Michel Nisenbaum (59) who was trying to reach and rescue his four-year-old granddaughter from a nearby army base.

According to the army, the three were killed during Hamas’s October 7th attack close to the Gaza border, or before they were taken into the tunnel where they were found.

The army said the bodies were retrieved in Jabalia, north of Gaza city, after precise information was obtained during the interrogation of Palestinians arrested in Gaza. The development came a week after the bodies of four other hostages were discovered, also in Jabalia.


Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu posted on X: “We have a national and moral duty to do everything we can to return our hostages – the living and the deceased – and that is what we are doing.”

Fierce fighting continued in Rafah as Israeli troops continued their advance in the southern city on the Egyptian border after a million residents fled the area over the last two weeks. A series of Israeli air strikes in quick succession appeared to be an attempt to assassinate Hamas’s Rafah regional commander. There was no confirmation if he was killed in the attacks.

Israel believes Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah, where four Hamas battalions are said to have remained on the eve of the Israeli assault on the city on May 7th.

In Jabalia, medics said at least five Palestinians were killed when houses were hit and more were believed to be trapped under rubble.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 35,800 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th. Some 125 hostages remain in Hamas captivity. Some of the hostages have died.

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah gave its public backing to Egypt’s decision to allow humanitarian aid piling up on its side of the shuttered Rafah crossing to be transferred to Gaza via Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, in a move that is expected to ease the humanitarian crisis. Egypt closed the Rafah crossing earlier this month after Israeli troops seized the Palestinian side of the terminal, resulting in lorries with much-needed humanitarian aid piling up on the Egyptian side.

CIA director Bill Burns is expected to meet Mossad chief David Barnea in Europe over the weekend in an attempt to restart ceasefire talks. US president Joe Biden and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in a phone call on Friday, agreed that international efforts should be intensified to ensure the success of the negotiation process.

However, prospects for a breakthrough are still low as Israel has refused to accept the Hamas demand for a commitment to end the war.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem