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Family of infant hostage pleads for his release before Israel-Hamas truce winds down

Ofri Bibas Levy, sister of Yarden Bibas, held hostage in Gaza with his wife, Shiri and two kids, Kfir and Ariel, talks to the media, during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov. 14, 2023. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File) Ofri Bibas Levy, sister of Yarden Bibas, held hostage in Gaza with his wife, Shiri and two kids, Kfir and Ariel, talks to the media, during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov. 14, 2023. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)
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TEL AVIV, Israel -

Kfir Bibas has spent nearly a fifth of his life as a Hamas hostage.

The 10-month-old was taken from his home in a southern Israeli kibbutz on Oct. 7, when Hamas abducted about 240 people and dragged them to Gaza.

Kfir was the youngest of about 30 children who were taken hostage. Under a current temporary ceasefire, Hamas has released women, children and teens, but the infant with red hair and a toothless smile hasn't been included on the lists of those set to be freed, according to his family.

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 was 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, a cousin of Kfir's father, told reporters. "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, as gunmen shouting in Arabic surrounded her. The 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," a man is heard saying in the video. "She has children," says another. "She has children, yes," the first speaker responds.

The boys' father, Yarden Bibas, also was taken captive with his wife and sons and appears in photos to have been wounded.

His sister, Ofri Bibas Levy, wondered Tuesday 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."

Their family, like other relatives of hostages, has been in emotional torment since Oct. 7. They have received no sign that Kfir is still alive and wonder how such a helpless child can cope with being in captivity.

"I am mostly trying to understand how they pass an entire day there," Bibas Levy told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month. "Is Kfir getting his bottle?" she asked.

The baby still was 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, his aunt noted.

In Israel and beyond, Kfir has become a symbol of the brutality of Hamas' attack last month. 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 their temporary truce until Wednesday, opening up the door for the possible release of Kfir, his brother and his mother, though they were not expected to be released on Tuesday. Under the terms of the ceasefire, men are excluded from the releases.

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.

More than 100 people gathered in Tel Aviv at the Hostages and Missing Persons Square on Tuesday afternoon to release orange balloons as they demanded the release of the Bibas family, especially the children.

"They have been 53 days in Gaza, and we don't know who is hugging them, or giving them baths, or calming them down if they are crying," Bibas Levy said during a press conference.

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