Israeli army recovers bodies of 3 more hostages from Gaza; ICJ ruling to stop Rafa attack

TEL AVIV, Israel — The bodies of three more hostages killed in Hamas’ October 7 attacks have been recovered from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said Friday. And the United Nations’ top court is poised to rule on whether Israel should end its operations in the Palestinian territories.

Hanan Yablonka, Michel Nisenbaum and Orion Hernandez were killed at the Mefalsim intersection on Oct. 7 and their bodies were flown to Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Friday morning, citing intelligence.

The army said their remains were recovered in a joint night operation by the IDF and the Israel Defense Agency in the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.

Hanan Yablonga, Orion Hernandez, and Michael NissenbaumHostage Families Forum

As the IDF battles Hamas in parts of northern and central Gaza, Israeli forces continue to expand operations into the enclave.

Israeli troops have pushed deep into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1 million people have taken refuge during the war, forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee and deepening a humanitarian crisis there while testing the Biden administration’s red lines.

CIA Director William Burns will hold meetings with the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency in Europe and Qatar’s prime minister in the coming days, hoping to renew talks on a deal to release the remaining prisoners, an Israeli official said.

The official said the Israeli government is assessing that the International Court of Justice may not order a complete ceasefire across the Strip when it rules late Friday, but may order a halt to military operations in Rafah. The Israeli government will study the ruling before making a decision, but will not accept a court order to end the war against Hamas, the official said.

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South Africa last week asked the court to stop the attack on Rafah, amid international outrage accusing Israel of genocide in the war and diplomatically isolating Israel.

Both Israel and the United States have rejected the charge of genocide, and Biden did so again this week after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor sought arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders.

The ICC — based in The Hague, Netherlands — can charge people with war crimes and other related charges. It is distinct from the ICJ, which hears cases between states and has no real power to enforce its judgments.

In the months since Israel began its offensive following Hamas’ October 7 attacks, more than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry.

According to Israeli officials, about 1,200 people were killed on October 7, and another 250 were taken hostage into Gaza. About 125 people are being held captive in Gaza, a third of whom are believed to be dead.

In a video conference Friday, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces “will not stop fighting” to see the hostages return. “Every decent country in the world would do the same,” he said.

Hernandez, 30, is the partner of Shani Luke, 23, whose body was recovered from Gaza earlier this month in an operation, said the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, which represents families of hostages in Gaza. Hernandez was a French-Mexican citizen who lived in Mexico and left behind a young daughter, the forum said.

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French President Emmanuel Macron offered his condolences to Hernandez’s family in a statement on Friday X: “France is always determined to free all hostages.”

Nissenbaum was described as a 59-year-old Brazilian-Israeli citizen and father of two daughters from Sterod. He was taken hostage when he tried to rescue his 4-year-old granddaughter who was with her father in the Reim area, the forum said.

Yablonga, a 42-year-old father of two from Tel Aviv, was taken hostage after attending the Nova music festival with friends.

It was not immediately clear when Israeli officials learned that the trio had been killed on October 7.

Hanan Yablonga’s father, Ruvan Yablonga, said Friday that he first found out about his son’s death on social media before being notified by the IDF.

He said he received more than 300 messages, and his daughter later told him that “she doesn’t want to say anything, but people are sending messages on Telegram that Hanan has been killed.”

“When the IDF called at 8:30 asking if they could come, we realized it was true,” he told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12. NBC News could not immediately reach the families of the three. .

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and his wife were mourning the three deaths. .”

“We have a national and moral obligation to do everything we can to return our abductees — lives and places — and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Raf Sanchez reported from Tel Aviv and Chantal da Silva from London.

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