Israel hostage families demand answers from Netanyahu government

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - TEL AVIV, Oct 29 — The families of more than 220 hostages seized by Hamas demanded answers from the Israeli government yesterday with many fearing that a military onslaught on the Gaza Strip is putting the captives’ lives at risk.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off from war planning for a hastily arranged meeting with hostage families after they had threatened to start street protests to highlight their desperation.

As the meeting went ahead a Hamas spokesman said Israel would have to release all Palestinian prisoners from its jails to secure freedom for the hostages, who were seized when Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel to attack kibbutz communities, towns and military bases on October 7.

Netanyahu made no commitment to any deal, but the right-wing prime minister told the families “we will exhaust every possibility to bring them home”, according to a video released by his office.

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He added that finding the hostages, whose ages range from a few months to more than 80, was an “integral part” of the military operation.

At a later press conference alongside Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had to be forced to the negotiating table but it was “very complex”.

“The more military pressure, the more firepower and the more we strike Hamas — the greater our chances are to bring it to a place where it will agree to a solution that will allow the return of your loved ones,” he said.

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Israel says Hamas militants killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, when they stormed across the border on October 7.

More than 7,700 people have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes on the enclave, including about 3,500 children, according to the Hamas health ministry.

Agonising wait

The government says it has confirmed that 229 hostages from more than 20 countries were taken on October 7.

It is not certain if that figure includes two Israeli and two American women who have since been released.

The Hamas military wing has also said that “almost 50” hostages have died in the daily Israeli air raids on Gaza.

Families are increasingly angry over the “absolute uncertainty” they face over the fate of the hostages, particularly in the heavy bombings, said Haim Rubinstein, a spokesperson for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Hundreds of relatives of the Israeli hostages held a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, threatening to hold street protests if a government minister did not meet them the same day.

“The families don’t sleep, they want answers, they deserve answers,” Rubinstein said.

Hostage families say they have had barely any contact with the government.

“We don’t know anything about what happened to them. We don’t know if they were shot, if they saw a doctor, if they have food,” said Inbal Zach, 38, whose cousin Tal Shoham was kidnapped from the Beeri kibbutz near the Gaza border with six other family members.

“We are just so worried about them.”

The families are divided over what action to take.

Some believe a tough line on Hamas is justified, others say a deal should be made.

When asked about the Hamas demands for a prisoner release, Ifat Kalderon, whose cousin is a hostage, said: “Take them, we don’t need them (the Palestinians) here.”

“I want my family and all the hostages to come back home, they are citizens, they are not soldiers.”

The Tel Aviv rally followed one of the most violent nights of the war with the military hammering Gaza with raids that it said targeted tunnels and underground bunkers.

“None of the war cabinet bothered to meet with the families to explain one thing: whether the ground operation endangers the wellbeing of the 229 hostages,” the Forum said in a statement.

“The families are worried about the fate of their loved ones and are waiting for an explanation. Every minute feels like an eternity.” — AFP

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