'Spider's web of tunnels': Freed Israeli hostage describes Hamas captivity

Yocheved Lifshitz says she went through 'hell' but that captives are being treated well

Watch: Freed Israeli hostage speaks to media in Tel Aviv hospital

Watch: Freed Israeli hostage speaks to media in Tel Aviv hospital
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An Israeli hostage has told of how she was held in an underground network of tunnels in Gaza for two weeks after being kidnapped by Hamas.

Yocheved Lifshitz, who was freed on Monday night, said she was beaten initially though later given medicine and fed by her captors.

The 85-year-old Israeli said that hostages are in a “spider's web” of tunnels that stretch for kilometres beneath Gaza.

"I've been through hell, we didn't think or know we would get to this situation," she said on Tuesday.

Ms Lifshitz was taken from near Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7 – when Hamas killed 1,400 people in southern Israel in an incursion that led to the war.

She said she was repeatedly struck by her captors when first taken and driven by motorbike over the border to Gaza.

"When I was on the bike, my head was 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," she told television cameras outside Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, with translation from her British-Israeli daughter, Sharon.

“We began walking inside the tunnels with wet ground, wet and damp everywhere.

“They were 25 of us, and after two to three hours they separated five people from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

“There were guards and paramedics and a doctor who took care of us … ensured we had the same medicine that we need. There, we lay on mattresses.

“They took care of the sanitary side so we didn't get sick, God forbid.

“If there were not the medicines [that matched ours] they would bring substitute medicines, the equivalent.”

Ms Lifshitz said one hostage had been knocked from a motorbike and was seriously injured.

“He was injured … his legs, his feet, his hands. An hour and a half each day the paramedic would come with antibiotics.”

She said that after four or five days, the paramedic switched drugs to ensure the captive fought off infection, in a sign that her captors were anxious to see that he survived.

“After that, he got better,” she said.

Ms Lifshitz said her captors were “very well prepared. They prepared for a long period of time”. They ate the same food as militants did, she said.

She and fellow hostage Nurit Cooper, 79, were handed over to the Red Cross at the Rafah crossing on Monday evening.

Husband remains captive

Video of Ms Lifshitz has circulated widely on social media, where she can be seen shaking the hand of a masked Hamas militant as she is released to the Red Cross.

Ms Lifshitz and her husband Oded, who are among the co-founders of the southern Nir Or kibbutz, are well known for working with Palestinians inside Israel and the nearby Gaza Strip.

Mr Lifshitz, who remains in Gaza, covered issues affecting Palestinian citizens of Israel during his lengthy career as a journalist with the left-wing Al Hamishmar newspaper, and was one of the first reporters to write about the September 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut.

“Every week, he went out in his car to the Erez checkpoint to transport sick residents of Gaza for treatment in the hospitals in Israel,” Britain's National Union of Journalists said in appeal for his release.

The family hope Ms Lifshitz's release will prompt the return of other hostages, a relative told the Israeli press.

Israel has confirmed 222 hostages are being held in Gaza, including several foreign citizens.

This number may rise, with people still missing and less than 800 of the 1,400 victims formally identified.

Visiting western leaders have reiterated calls for all hostages to be released regardless of nationality, discussed by French President Emmanuel Macron in a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday.

The families of the missing have appealed on the government to suspend an expected ground invasion of Gaza amid fears of both the safety of their loved ones and more entrenched violence in the decades-long conflict, which threatens to plunge the wider region into chaos.

Updated: October 24, 2023, 12:49 PM