Family says two American brothers, 18 and 20, detained in Israeli raid in Gaza

WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli forces detained two young adult American brothers in Gaza and their Canadian father in an overnight raid on their home in the besieged Palestinian territory, relatives of the men said.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday the administration will be talking with Israeli authorities about the reported detentions of the brothers, as well as the Israeli military’s arrest of an American woman in the occupied West Bank earlier in the week. “We want to know more about the reasons here,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.

“Obviously, this is the kind of thing we take very seriously,” he said, and the U.S. will be “trying to get information, more context here about what happened.”

Borak Alagha, 18, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two brothers born in the Chicago area, are among fewer than 50 U.S. citizens known to still be trying to leave sealed-off Gaza, nearly four months into the Israeli-Hamas war.

Other U.S. green-card holders and close relatives of the citizens and permanent residents also are still struggling and unable to leave, despite U.S. requests they be allowed to exit, according to their American families and advocates.

Cousin Yasmeen Elagha, a law student at Northwestern University, said Israeli forces entered the family home in the town of al-Mawasi, near Khan Younis, around 5 a.m. Gaza time Thursday.

The soldiers tied up and blindfolded the women and children in the family, and placed them outside the home, the cousin said.

The two American brothers, their Canadian citizen father, a mentally disabled uncle and two other adult male relatives were taken away by the Israelis, and have not returned, Elagha said.

Men of a neighboring household were also taken away. So were other adult male relatives of another Alagha family household, for a total of about 20 family members detained, the U.S. cousin said.

A family social media account from Gaza also described the detentions.

An advocate for American families who are still trying to get loved ones out of Gaza faulted U.S. officials Thursday for not having moved more urgently to help get the Alagha brothers and other Palestinian Americans, U.S. residents and close relatives out of harm’s way in Gaza.

Detention or death under an Israeli airstrike “were two of the biggest fears this family has had all along. And now the worst has happened,” said Maria Kari, an immigration attorney who has been advocating for the family. “It could have been avoided if the U.S. had more timely advocated for this family.”

U.S. officials in December said they had helped 1,300 Americans, green-card holders and their eligible close family members to leave Gaza since Oct. 7.

State Department officials in January declined to say how many people for whom the U.S. has requested permission to leave remain in Gaza, citing the “fluidity” of the situation.

The brothers would be among three American citizens taken into custody by Israeli forces this week, during the same time Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting the region to try to mediate with ally Israel and regional Arab leaders.

Relations between Israel and the United States have fallen from the high point they hit immediately after the Oct. 7 Hamas strikes in Israel that triggered the war. The two allies more recently have been out of sync publicly on efforts to ease the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, on the path toward peace there, and some other matters.

Earlier this week, a 46-year-old Palestinian American woman, Samaher Esmail, was taken from her home in the occupied West Bank on Monday and detained. The Israeli military said she had been arrested for “incitement on social media” and held for questioning.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel said Thursday it had no updates on her case.

Esmail’s family said the U.S. Embassy asked them on Thursday for a list of her medications but said it would not be able to have contact with her before Monday. Relatives said she needs the medication for uterine cancer. The family said it still does not know where she is being held.

The Israeli military and Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Israel and Egypt control the official exit lists that are the only authorized way out of Gaza for foreigners and Palestinians. U.S. authorities say they are working with the two U.S. allies to get more of the names of Americans, U.S. residents and their close kin who are seeking to leave placed on the exit lists. The Alagha brothers’ family says they are among those who have been unable to get their names on the lists.

Israeli security forces in the course of the war have rounded up large numbers of Palestinian military-age men in Gaza, later releasing some. Israel says the mass detentions are a necessary part of fighting Hamas. Palestinians say Israel is unjustly including large numbers of civilian adult males in the sweeps.

Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.

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