TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Kfir Bibas has spent nearly a fifth of his life in Hamas captivity.
The 10-month-old was abducted from his home in a southern Israeli kibbutz on Oct. 7, when Palestinian militants snatched about 240 people and dragged them to Gaza.
Kfir, the youngest captive, was among about 30 children who were taken hostage in Hamas’ assault. Under a current temporary cease-fire, Hamas has released women, children and teens, but Kfir hasn’t been included on the lists of those set to be freed.
With his red hair and toothless smile, Kfir's ordeal has become for many a symbol of the brutality of Hamas’ attack. With most other young hostages already released, Kfir’s fate and that of his 4-year-old brother, Ariel, are now a rallying cry for Israelis seeking the speedy release of all the hostages. A demonstration in support of the Bibas family is being held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
“There is no precedent for something like this, for a baby who was kidnapped when he was 9 months old,” Eylon Keshet, Kfir’s father’s cousin, told reporters on Tuesday. “Is baby Kfir the enemy of Hamas?”
Shortly after the Hamas attack, video emerged of Kfir and Ariel swaddled in a blanket around their mother, Shiri, with gunmen shouting in Arabic surrounding her. The Bibas children bob around as their mother appears terrified.
“No one will hurt her, so she would know that we care about humanity. Cover her and keep her until you take her alive. Let her know,” said one man. “She has children,” said another. “She has children, yes,” the first speaker responds.
Yarden, their father, was also taken captive and appears in photos to have been wounded.
Kfir Bibas’ family, like other relatives of captives, has been tormented since Oct. 7. They have received no sign that he is still alive and wonder how such a helpless infant can cope with being in captivity for so long.
“I am mostly trying to understand how they pass an entire day there,” Kfir's aunt, Ofri Bibas Levy, told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month. “Is Kfir getting his bottle?” she asked, adding that he was still only crawling when he was seized, but is likely to have reached the stage when he starts using objects to stand up and move around, a joyful milestone he may have hit while in captivity.
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has brought Kfir's picture to international media studios and brandished it on camera. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant referred to him in a news conference, wondering who was looking out for him. A reporter for Channel 12 broke down on camera while reporting about the family this week, saying “I think an entire nation wished they were coming home."
On Monday, Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the temporary truce until Wednesday, opening up the door for the possible release of Kfir and his brother and mother. Under the terms of the cease-fire, men are excluded from the releases. But when Kfir wasn't freed on Monday, his family released a statement saying that “the understanding that we won’t receive the embrace we so wished for has left us without words.”
In what appeared to be an effort to ramp up pressure on Hamas to free the Bibas boys and their mother before the truce expires, Israel’s military spokesman and the spokesman for Arabic media both mentioned Kfir in separate statements.
Bibas Levy on Tuesday wondered why it was taking so long for the boys to be freed.
“Maybe it's part of a psychological war against us,” she said. “My hope is that they don't see them as a trophy.”