newsIsrael at War

Families of IDF soldiers held by Hamas demand gov’t act to free their sons

The families asked for guarantees that the negotiation teams have the tools and the leverage to bring their children home by Passover.

Israelis call for the release of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, outside a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israelis call for the release of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, outside a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Families of Israel Defense Forces soldiers held hostage by Hamas in Gaza called on the government on Thursday to act for the release of their sons, ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. 

“In our meeting with the prime minister today, we demand to know when and how our sons will be returned, those who are alive as well as the bodies of those who were murdered and are deceased,” said Orna Neutra, the mother of 21-year-old tank commander Omer, who is believed to be held captive in Gaza. 

Neutra said the families would ask for guarantees that the teams involved in the hostage negotiations have the tools and the leverage to bring their children home by Passover.

The Jewish Festival of Freedom begins on the evening of April 22.

At the start of the meeting, Netanyahu told the families that he feels personally obligated to free all hostages who are still held captive by Hamas and that he will “not leave anyone behind.”

He added, “I know that every day you go through is hell. Your sons are our heroes. … Only the continuation of the great military pressure that we exerted and will exert will return our hostages—everyone.”

Sexual abuse

Shlomi Berger, whose daughter Agam, 19, was kidnapped by Hamas from Nahal Oz on Oct. 7 and is one of 19 women still held by the terrorist organization, will meet with Netanyahu on Sunday.

“I will expect to hear from the prime minister about how he is planning to return to the negotiation table after Hamas’s response,” Berger told JNS. 

“We can’t just accept Hamas’s refusal and focus on the fighting. We don’t have time. I want to know that we will move forward with new ideas to bring back my daughter,” he said. 

Following the released hostage Amit Soussana’s interview with The New York Times in which she described sexual abuse, Berger said that it is no longer possible to ignore it.

“We have known about sexual assault since November when the women and children were released from captivity,” he said. 

“While I couldn’t bring myself, as the father of a captive, to read the entire story because it is too hard for me, we now have someone who came back from Gaza and came forward saying it happened to her. It’s undeniable,” he added. 

On Tuesday, former hostage Luis Har, 71, who was rescued along with Fernando Marman, 60, described the conditions in which he was held by Hamas in an interview with the British newspaper the Daily Mail

Har recounted his ordeal in Hamas’s tunnels—the lack of sunlight, starvation, constant threats and the psychological warfare conducted by his captors. “They told us it not to wander outside—that they would beat us to death,” he told the Daily Mail.

“They kept telling us not to speak loudly because UAVs, if they located us, would pass the information to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu would send planes to bomb us because he doesn’t want any deal, he wants to kill us,” Har continued. “They kept repeating this, every day. Eventually, it gets into your head.”

Disappointed by the vote

Earlier this week, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that did not explicitly condition a ceasefire on the release of the Israeli hostages. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield abstained, allowing the measure to pass.

“We have a very strong bond with the U.S., we are very proud of it and we don’t take it for granted,” Likud Member of Knesset Danny Danon told JNS.

“Having said that, we are disappointed by the vote at the Security Council. A few days earlier, U.S. officials said they would not support a resolution that would not facilitate the negotiations. We were shocked by the abstention which will make it hard to move forward and reach an agreement,” he said.

The U.N. resolution, which calls for a halt to the fighting until the end of Ramadan on April 9, was supported by 14 nations, including veto holders China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France.

The text also demands the “immediate and unconditional release” of the 134 remaining hostages taken during Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist rampage, though it does not link that demand to the call for a ceasefire.

American, Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari interlocutors have been shuttling to Cairo, Doha and Paris in recent months in an attempt to hash out a ceasefire agreement that would see the release of the remaining abductees.

After Israel tentatively accepted a preliminary agreement brokered by the United States for the release of the female IDF soldiers held in Gaza, Hamas told mediators on Monday night that it was sticking to its demands for a “permanent ceasefire,” hours after praising the passage of the Security Council resolution.

Jerusalem has repeatedly dismissed the Islamist group’s demands, which include the release of hundreds of terrorists from Israeli prisons, as “delusional.”

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