The state will “exhaust every possibility” to bring back their loved ones, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told family members of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza on Saturday.
The meeting in Tel Aviv lasted for some two hours, after which the families participated in a rally demanding the abductees’ return.
The families of 230 captives have been notified since the terrorist group’s mass infiltration and massacre of western Negev communities that began on Oct. 7, the IDF said on Saturday.
“I also met today with the families of the captives and with bereaved parents. My heart was broken. I reiterated to them: At every stage up to now and at every stage from now, we will exhaust every possibility to bring our brothers and sisters back to their families,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference on Saturday night with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and War Cabinet member Benny Gantz.
“Their abduction was a crime against humanity,” the premier added.
The family representatives urged Netanyahu to agree to a prisoner exchange with Hamas.
“We came out of a meeting of two hours with the prime minister; it was very painful, and very clear things were said from the representatives of the families with an unequivocal demand that the [IDF] operations’ activities weigh the fate of the kidnapped; the responsibility for this is on the government of Israel,” Leshem Gonen, whose daughter was kidnapped from the music festival near Kibbutz Re’im on Oct. 7, was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying at the rally.
“We demand that no move be taken that endangers the fate of our family members, and that every action takes their well-being into account,” Gonen continued.
“We made it clear that as far as the families are concerned, a deal for the immediate return of our family members within the framework of everyone for everyone should be considered and will have wide national support.”
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said on Saturday that the terrorist group is ready for a prisoner exchange deal with Israel.
“We are ready to conduct an immediate prisoner exchange deal that includes the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for all prisoners held by the Palestinian resistance,” Sinwar said in a statement.
IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari dismissed Sinwar’s statement, saying that it was “psychological terror cynically used by Hamas to create pressure.
“Nothing is on the table regarding the abductees,” said Hagari.
The IDF spokesperson also noted that the statement had not come directly from the Hamas leader.
“Sinwar can’t issue statements; he speaks through intermediaries. Hamas doesn’t [refuses to] communicate directly with Israel,” he said.
Hagari said on Sunday that the military was working to bring home the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
“We all doing everything to bring the hostages home. It is a top priority,” he said.
Hagari also said that a new group of tatzpitaniyot, female soldiers whose job is to monitor Israel’s borders using cameras and other technology, will be inducted as scheduled with the mission to find the missing hostages. The unit, which operates within the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, will join those already tasked with relaying real-time surveillance information to the troops in the field.
Meanwhile, international pressure is increasing on Hamas to release the hostages, with more than a thousand child advocates and experts on childhood trauma from around the world writing a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres demanding the immediate release of kidnapped children.
The letter states that “this brutal heinous attack targeting children, including their torture and abduction, marks an entirely new level of violence because the children were the intended target of the attack. It is the worst imaginable crime against humanity and the grimmest violation of basic principles of morality.”
The letter is a collaborative effort between a group of Israeli academics and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
Hamas terrorists took about 30 children, including six babies, to Gaza during the Oct. 7 onslaught on southern Israel.