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Freed Israeli hostage says ‘I’ve been through hell’

AN elderly Israeli hostage who was released by Hamas overnight said she had been beaten by militants when she was abducted and taken to Gaza on October 7, but was then treated well during her two-week captivity in the Palestinian enclave.

Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, was one of two elderly women freed late on Monday, leaving around 220 hostages still in the hands of Hamas, including both of their husbands.

“I’ve been through hell,” Lifshitz told reporters, speaking in barely a whisper and seated in a wheelchair outside the Tel Aviv hospital where she was taken following her release.

Looking frail, Lifshitz said gunmen had burst into her kibbutz, Nir Oz, taking residents by surprise.

“They stormed into our homes. They beat people. They kidnapped others, the old and the young without distinction.”

Israel’s public broadcaster Kan has said that a third of Nir Oz’s 400 residents were believed to have been abducted or killed on October 7. No official figure has been given. In all, 1,400 people were killed by Hamas fighters on October 7, Israel says.

Lifshitz herself was put on a motorbike and driven into nearby Gaza.

“When I was on the bike, my legs were on one side and the rest of my body on the other side. The young men hit me on the way. They didn’t break my ribs but it was painful and I had difficulty breathing.”

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She said her watch and jewellery were stolen during the ride.

Inside Gaza, a group of hostages were led into what Lifshitz called a “spider’s web” of damp tunnels, built by Hamas beneath the narrow coastal territory, and eventually reached a large hall.

“When we got there, first of all, they told us that they believed in the Koran and that they would not harm us,” she recounted.

A group of five people from her kibbutz were held together, each with an individual guard who stayed with them 24 hours a day. Lifshitz said a doctor visited them every other day and brought them the medicines they needed.

“They took good care of the wounded,” Lifshitz said.

Video of her release on Monday showed her turning around to shake the hand of a masked captor. Asked why she had done that, she replied: “They treated us gently and met all our needs.”

Speaking to Reuters on Monday, her grandson said Lifshitz was a peace activist who used to help sick Palestinians in Gaza receive medical treatment in Israel, meeting them at the main border crossing and driving them to hospitals.

Lifshitz was critical on Tuesday of the Israeli military for failing to protect southern communities from the Hamas assault, saying the army had not taken the threat of attack seriously.

“We were left to fend for ourselves,” she said.

She added that a costly security fence that was meant to keep militants out “didn’t help at all”.

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Hamas has so far released four hostages. Israel’s military dropped leaflets in Gaza on Tuesday, offering reward and protection to any Palestinians who could give them information about the hostages.