Two US citizens detained in Gaza raid, State Department says

Israeli soldiers stormed the house where the two brothers were sheltering and detained them, family member tells The National

An Israeli soldier stands guard at the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt. AP
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The family of two Americans detained by Israeli forces in a pre-dawn raid in Gaza on Thursday morning are pleading with US President Joe Biden's administration to secure their release.

Hashem Alagha, 20, and Borak Alagha, 18, both Palestinian Americans who were born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, were taken from the house they were sheltering in to the west of Khan Younis with their mother, father, uncle and younger siblings after Israeli forces stormed the site.

"Israeli soldiers stormed into the house, they broke down the doors and stormed in at around 5am," Yasmeen Elagha, the men's cousin, a third-year law student at Northwestern University in Chicago, told The National.

Ms Elagha said she has spoken to the brothers' mother, who is racked with grief and anxiety about the well-being of her children and husband, who was also taken.

On Thursday, the State Department confirmed that it was aware of reports that two Americans had been detained in Gaza by Israeli forces but refused to identify the the citizens, citing privacy concerns.

“We have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens overseas,” said State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel.

Mr Patel said the department is seeking more information.

Israel has arrested or detained hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza since October 7, when it launched its military offensive in the territory after a deadly attack by Hamas, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club advocacy group.

Ms Elagha said the State Department had so far provide little information to her family on the situation.

"It's been almost a whole day and I don't know a single piece of information about where my family members are and their mother, my aunt is absolutely worried sick," Ms Elagha said. "She's just devastated and is just sobbing all day."

She added she has been in touch with the State Department repeatedly throughout the more than four-month-long war, trying to get her American family cleared to leave the besieged enclave.

Americans listed by the US as wanting to leave Gaza at the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing must be approved by both Israel and Egypt.

Members of Ms Elagha's family sued US President Joe Biden's administration in December, claiming it has not done as much to evacuate their American relatives stuck in Gaza as it did for Israeli dual citizens.

The State Department says it has helped about 1,300 Palestinian Americans to leave Gaza amid Israel's retaliatory bombardment – in part by co-ordinating their exit with Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

About 900 American citizens remain in Gaza.

Mr Patel said an American citizen was also recently detained in the West Bank.

“We are in direct contact with the family and Israeli authorities, and providing all appropriate consular assistance,” he said.

Ms Elagha said the administration had failed her family.

"What we found is that they have been totally abandoned by the US government, despite the fact that you know, they were born here," she said.

Updated: February 08, 2024, 10:36 PM