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Why the disappearance of Noa Argamani, face of the Israel hostage crisis, remains a mystery

Explainers

Why disappearance of Israel's Noa Argamani remains a mystery

On 7 October, Hamas stormed the Supernova music festival and took many people hostage, one of them being Noa Argamani. Since then, many have been released, but not the 26-year-old. Now, a report suggests the Palestinian militant group may not have been responsible for her disappearance. Then who is?

FP Explainers December 21, 2023 08:26:46 IST Why disappearance of Israel's Noa Argamani remains a mystery

Yakov Argamani, father of hostage Noa Argamani, 26, who was filmed as she was being abducted during the deadly 7 October attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Tel Aviv, Israel. Reuters

On 7 October, the world was stunned when Hamas militants carried out an audacious and deadly attack on Israel, killing over 1,200 people and taking nearly 250 people hostage from a music festival being held in Re’im and the kibbutz nearby.

The horror of the attack was seen the world over through a 10 second video which showed a young woman with her hand outstretched, terror etched on her face and screaming as she was carried out away on the back of a motorcycle.

That woman was later identified as 26-year-old Noa Argamani, a data science engineering student, and believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas. That is until now. A new investigation by NBC reveals that Argamani may not have been kidnapped by Hamas, but may have been most likely abducted by a mob of Gazans that swept into Israel hours after the initial attack.

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Here’s what we know so far.

The abduction of Noa Argamani

Noa Argamani was like any of the thousands of revellers at the Supernova music festival in the south of Israel on 7 October when all of a sudden militants stormed in and took them hostage.

Shortly after the incident, the Chinese embassy wrote on their official Weibo account, “Noa is a Chinese-Israeli… born in Beijing. At the time, Noa was attending a peace music festival in southern Israel when she was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists and taken from Israel to Gaza.”

A video clip posted on the account showed the 25-year-old screaming “Don’t kill me. No, no, no” while being taken away on a motorcycle from an outdoor music festival near Israel’s border with Gaza, as she stretched out her arms towards her boyfriend being marched along by militants.

Noa’s mother, Liora, and father Yaakov, both expressed shock and disbelief when they saw the video of their daughter being taken away. “She is an amazing person. A sweet child,” Yaakov was quoted as saying about his daughter.

In the days following the abduction, Noa’s mother Liora in a video said she was dying of cancer and pleaded to see her daughter before the disease could take her life.

Hopes of a release

Friends and family of Noa, who became the face of the attacks, retained hope of getting her back and felt even more overjoyed when news broke of a ceasefire being called in exchange for hostages. In the days to come, More than 100 people were released, much to the relief of their friends and family.

However, for Noa’s family, their hopes were dashed on 1 December when the truce fell apart and she hadn’t returned home.

“Every one of us imagined her back home,” Yan Gorjaltsan, a close friend of Argamani’s told NBC News.

Of the 240-odd hostages taken by Hamas, over 100 of them have been released since the attacks. However, Noa is among the 14 civilians yet to be released. Both Israel and its ally US have said Hamas’ refusal to release those women led to the truce falling apart. Hamas has blamed Israel, saying it refused “to accept all offers to release other detainees”.

Mark Regev, senior adviser to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when asked why Hamas went back on the deal told NBC News that it could have something to do with the ages of some of the women. Military service is mandatory for most Israelis when they turn 18. “I think Hamas has a position, yes, that anyone who’s in the age, young, that they’re automatically soldiers even though they were clearly civilians when they were taken hostage,” Regev told NBC.

Hamas or other elements

But as the family counts the days and pray for her return, an NBC investigation has revealed that it may not have been Hamas that abducted Noa in the first place. One of the reasons to believe so, according to military officials, is that none of the captors seen in the video of Argamani’s kidnapping appear to be armed or wearing tactical vests, suggesting they are unlikely to belong to the Nukhba Force, an elite Hamas commando unit. Moreover, at least one of the captors appeared to be young.

Another reason to believe that it wasn’t Hamas, but perhaps Gazans or other criminal elements that took Noa captive is the analysis of the sun in the images. Officials say the sun and shadow appearing in the kidnapping visuals suggest that it occurred later in the morning, hours after the actual attack took place at the music festival.

However, there’s a third possibility as to Noa’s whereabouts, but it’s one that neither her family nor friends want to think about. Hamas has claimed that through the duration of the war, Israel has killed hostages during the offensive. In fact, on Friday, Israel announced it had mistakenly killed three hostages who were carrying a white flag, with at least one person shouting out in Hebrew.

A new hostage deal in the making

And while Noa’s parents plead for her return, reports have emerged that Israel is offering to pause the fighting in Gaza for at least one week as part of a new deal to get Hamas to release more hostages.

According to a report in the Axios, the proposal, made through Qatari mediators, is the first Israel has offered since the collapse of a deal last month that led to a seven-day ceasefire and the release of more than 100 hostages. Sources in the know have revealed that Israel said it would agree for a temporary ceasefire of a least one week and might release Palestinian prisoners who were convicted of more serious attacks on Israel than those who were released in the previous deal.

Israel president Isaac Herzog indicated on Tuesday that the country was willing to enter another foreign-mediated Gaza truce in order to recover hostages held by Hamas. “Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages,” Isaac Herzog told a gathering of ambassadors, as per news agency Reuters.

“And the responsibility lies fully with (Hamas leader Yahya) Sinwar and (other) Hamas leadership,” he said.

With inputs from agencies

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