Israeli hostage faced ‘punishments’ during eight months in Hamas captivity, family says

The family of one of the hostages rescued in an Israeli operation over the weekend has said that he experienced psychological abuse over the hands of his Hamas captors during the eight months that he was held in Gaza.

Andrey Kozlov, 27, was rescued alongside Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan and Shlomi Ziv during a raid on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Saturday. The operation was only the third Israeli rescue of hostages held in Gaza and has been celebrated in Israel. But it left a trail of devastation, with authorities in Gaza saying at least 274 Palestinians were killed in the raid and the ensuing firefight with Hamas militants.

Kozlov and the others were held in two civilian buildings in the densely packed territory. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has said that the raid was carried out in the two buildings simultaneously for fear the captors would kill some of the hostages if they knew an operation was unfolding.

A Russian citizen, Kozlov moved to Israel almost two years ago. He was working as a security guard at the Nova music festival on October 7 when he was kidnapped and taken into Gaza.

In an interview with CNN, Kozlov’s family revealed some details of their son’s ordeal, including that he initially believed the Israeli forces who saved him had been sent to kill him.

Kozlov’s father, Mikhail Kozlov, said his son was “very scared” because Hamas militants had for months falsely said that “Israel wanted to kill them all” claiming “they were a problem for Israel”.

“He was told that Israel wants to kill him. He didn’t understand why the IDF came. He was afraid that the IDF came to kill him. It took him some time to realize that they came to rescue him.”

Mikhail said his son would not reveal all the ways he’d been mistreated, saying “he wasn’t seen as a human by them.”

“I would say that they would punish him for any behavior that they considered was wrong,” he said.

“One of the examples that Andrey gave us… is that at the hottest time of the day they would cover him with blankets,” he said.

“It is a very difficult ordeal. To be dehydrated during heat.”

His brother, Dmitry, said “they were trying not to leave [physical] marks … But they would still punish him this way or the other. Very often for trivial things.”

“He was told not to speak in Hebrew, you need to whisper and [even that] in English.”

Describing their reunion, Mikhail said: “The first meeting was very touching… We expected to have a vibrant meeting and some joy, but instead, he knelt down and burst into tears and that was very moving for us.”

Dmitry said his brother feels indebted to Israel. “He says that he doesn’t understand what he has done to deserve this generosity towards him, because he hasn’t done anything. So he feels obliged to pass this goodness on to the next person and help get others [hostages] out.”

Kozlov, 27, was among the rescued hostages. - Israeli Army/Handout via Reuters
Kozlov, 27, was among the rescued hostages. - Israeli Army/Handout via Reuters

With the rescue of the four hostages, 116 remain in Gaza from the October 7 attacks, of which 41 are believed to be dead.

Mikhail said that he was in favor of securing the release of the remaining hostages by any means – by negotiation, or further military action.

“If it can be a deal, if a deal can help to release them, then be it,” he said. “If it’s possible to carry such an operation again, then it should be an operation for the release of these hostages. We need to use any means to return these people back to their families.”

‘A lot of abuse, almost every day’

The doctor in charge of medical treatment for the four Israeli hostages rescued Saturday said they were beaten while in Hamas captivity in Gaza.

“It was a harsh, harsh, experience, with a lot of abuse, almost every day,” Dr. Itai Pessach told CNN. “Every hour, both physical, mental and other types, and that is something that is beyond comprehension.”

Pessach said the eight months spent in captivity “left a significant mark on their health” and despite appearing in good condition initially, they are all malnourished.  “They had no protein, so their muscles are extremely wasted, there is damage to some other systems because of that.”

He said the hostages told him they were moved several times, dealing with a number of different guards. The supply of food and water was unstable.

“There have been periods where they got almost no food whatsoever, there were other periods where it was a little better, but all in all, the combination of the psychological stress, malnutrition or not getting enough food or not getting the right kind of food, medical neglect, being limited to space, not seeing the sun and all of the other things have significant effect on health.”

The testimony is the latest insight into conditions Hamas keeps hostages in. Other hostages have previously outlined their ordeals.

Keren Munder, her mother and her 9-year-old son – who were among scores of hostages released under a temporary truce last year - endured days with only pita bread to eat, according to her cousin Merav Mor Raviv.

Munder and her mother both lost between six and eight kilograms in weight.

Another hostage, 72-year-old Adina Moshe, endured “horrible” conditions while she was held captive, according to her nephew, who added that she didn’t have access to basic facilities like a shower.

Israel launched its war in Gaza following the Hamas attacks of October 7, when militants killed about 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostage. Since then, the Israeli campaign has killed more than 37,000 people, according to the ministry of health in Gaza, and triggered a humanitarian crisis. Concerns over food insecurity and famine are growing, with a UN report warning recently that more than one million people, half of Gaza’s population, are “expected to face death and starvation” by mid-July.

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