Hamas releases 2 elderly Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza

Israelis protest for the release of hostages held by Hamas militants in Gaza as U.S. President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv this past Wednesday. Hamas released two elderly Israeli hostages on Monday. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Hamas released two elderly Israeli hostages on Monday, international aid workers confirmed, while more than 200 abductees are still believed to be held captive by Islamic militants in Gaza.

"We facilitated the release of 2 more hostages, transporting them out of Gaza this evening," the International Committee of the Red Cross announced in a social media post. "Our role as a neutral intermediary makes this work possible & we are ready to facilitate any future release.

"We hope that they will soon be back with their loved ones," the aid group said.

The release came shortly after Israeli officials said the plight of the hostages will be highlighted during a meeting between Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the United Nations Security Council planned for Tuesday in New York.

The Israelis were returned three days after the release of two American hostages amid the three-week-old war between Israel and Hamas, which has claimed about 1,400 Israeli lives while at least 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory actions, according to Gazan health officials.

The two abductees released Monday were identified as Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85. Both were abducted from their homes in Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7, according to the American Jewish Committee. Their husbands reportedly remain held in Gaza.

"We decided to release them for compelling humanitarian and health reasons, despite the occupation committing more than eight violations of the procedures that were agreed upon with the mediating brothers for the occupation to adhere to during this day to complete the handover process," a spokesman for the Hamas military wing said in a statement to Israeli media.

A week ago Hamas released its first video of a hostage, Israeli-French citizen Mia Schem, who was shown lying on a bed with her right arm bandaged, pleaded to be returned to her family. She was among those captured by Hamas at the Nova music festival in which more than 260 Israelis were slain.

Israel officials believe at least 220 people are being held hostage by Hamas, which claims it has 200 hostages while 50 more are being held captive by other Palestinian terror groups.

Before the latest hostage release on Monday, Israel's foreign ministry told local media that Cohen would bring family members of abductees with him to the United States, where he is expected to address a United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

Officials confirmed the relatives will participate in events in New York while Cohen attends the Security Council's regular monthly meeting on the Palestinian situation, the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel reported.

While at the U.N., the Israeli foreign minister is also expected to meet with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and other foreign ministers, although the details have reportedly not yet been finalized.

Some family members have criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for approving of deliveries of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza through Egypt while their loved ones remained missing.

The group last week demanded improved communications with the government as well as the opening of a humanitarian corridor to get medicines to the hostages, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.