update deskIsrael at War

Hostages’ families mull sending own mediator to Cairo talks

The organizers, family members of those kidnapped by Hamas, are unhappy with the government's efforts to free their loved ones.

Israelis call on the government to free the hostages in Gaza, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Feb. 11, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israelis call on the government to free the hostages in Gaza, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Feb. 11, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

The families of Hamas captives in Gaza are considering sending their own representative to Cairo, to carry out hostage negotiations independently of Israel’s government.

“If he is not accepted in Cairo, we will send him to another country,” Rotem Cooper told Channel 12. His father, Amiram Cooper, 85, was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz and has been held in Gaza for 135 days.

“We see that the government, especially its leader, is hesitating on the issue,” said Rotem. “As far as I know, none of the Cabinet members actually has abducted children, wives, brothers or sisters,” he said.

Rotem’s mother, Nurit, was also kidnapped. Hamas released her on Oct. 23 along with Yocheved Lifshitz, another female captive.

Rotem helped organize a secret operation to send medicine into the Gaza Strip for the hostages. The move was unknown to the Israeli government and came to light on Friday when IDF soldiers found boxes of medicine at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis with the names of hostages on them.

The medicine was transferred from European countries to Egypt and then to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing, with help from local and international organizations, the news site reported.

“We have no indication that the drugs actually reached one hostage or another. We will only know this if someone returns from captivity and reports that he has received a certain medication,” said Rotem.

“My mother was released on day 17, before the shipment came in. The last abductees were released on day 55 and we did not thoroughly interrogate them on the matter. This was more or less around the time the first drugs went in,” he explained.

He started a WhatsApp chat group on Oct. 8, the day after the Hamas massacre, called “Medicines for Abductees.” It began as a way to gather information about which medicines were needed by the captives.

The group then took the initiative to send medicine independently of the government, the first shipment entered the Gaza Strip in mid-November.

The organizers had no intention of revealing the existence of the secret shipments and only did so because of the discovery by the IDF. “[W]e wanted to control the narrative. Of course, we really want to show that such initiatives bring results,” Rotem Cooper said.

Official efforts to free the 134 remaining hostages continue. Israeli President Isaac Herzog secretly met with Qatar’s prime minister on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Friday to discuss the issue.

Hostages’ family members accompanied Herzog to Munich for the 60th version of the annual event. Freed captives Raz Ben Ami, Adi Shoham and Aviva Segal were also with the Israeli president.

Meanwhile, Ronen Tzur, who headed the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group formed in the aftermath of Oct. 7 to represent the families of hostages, announced he was stepping down on Sunday.

Tzur, a key figure in the campaign against judicial reform, made his decision after a growing number of families in the group began to fear that he was too polarizing a figure to lead an organization meant to build a national consensus around the plight of the hostages.

Ditza Or, whose son Avinatan was kidnapped by Hamas along with his girlfriend, Noa Argamani, in an event captured on film, told Makor Rishon on Sunday: “Today, more and more families understand that his campaign has distanced the public from us. The public is fed up with the abductees to some extent. Voices of ‘Why do you think your children are more important than IDF soldiers’ have started, and polls show that support is declining.”

Or said some 30 families that agreed with her position formed a forum within a forum in opposition to Tzur, whom they held responsible for the situation.

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