newsIsrael at War

‘Our last chance’: Hostages’ families hope for deal as talks renewed

"We want to believe that this time will be different," captive's cousin tells JNS.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv, July 6, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv, July 6, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

As thousands converged on Tel Aviv’s “Hostage Square” for the weekly rally on Saturday night, a sense of cautious optimism filled the air following an apparent breakthrough in the indirect hostage-negotiations between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group.

“We’ve been through this a lot with a deal on the table, which in the end didn’t materialize. We want to believe that this time will be different but we must remain realistic even as we do everything to close it,” Eyal Kalderon told JNS on Sunday.

On Oct. 7, Kalderon’s cousin Ofer was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with his son, Erez, then aged 11, now 12, and daughter, Sahar, 16. The children were among the 105 captives freed in November as part of a ceasefire-for-terrorists agreement.

Ofer Kalderon
Ofer Kalderon, 53. Credit: Courtesy of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Mediators are working to revive President Joe Biden’s phased proposal presented in May, which calls for an initial “full and complete” six-week ceasefire during which dozens of Israeli hostages would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons.

Mossad Director David Barnea traveled to Doha over the weekend to jump-start negotiations. Upon his return, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that a negotiating team would be dispatched this week to continue the talks.

A source with knowledge of the talks told Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster on Sunday that Barnea, CIA Director William Burns, Egyptian intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani are set to hold an additional four-way meeting in Doha on Wednesday.

“It’s only a matter of time until a front [against Hezbollah] opens in the north. This is our last chance to close a deal that will save many lives,” said Kalderon. “This must be the demand of every single person that cherishes life, this is a crucial moment and there is no way back.”

Kalderon described the hardships that Sahar and Erez have experienced, all without their father, as they continue their recovery. 

“Hadas, their mother, told me a few weeks ago that Erez sat on the couch of the living room and started asking what they would do, where they would hide if terrorists walked up to their doors,” he recounted. 

“And if Hamas were to throw them off the balcony from the 13th floor, would they die? This is what’s on the mind of a 12-year-old boy. They can’t start their healing process until Ofer is back,” Kalderon said.

“This is not only 120 hostages, we are talking about hundreds of people that cannot continue their lives until they’re all back,” he added.

At Saturday’s rally, Almog Meir Jan, who was rescued on June 8 from Hamas captivity along with three others in a daring IDF operation, delivered a recorded message.

“When I came back, so many people hugged me, the love was endless. It was like a new birthday, like a new birth, I hope and expect that the 120 hostages in Gaza will experience like me,” Meir Jan said. 

“It’s essential that we arrive at a deal so that all the mothers will be able to hug their children like I am holding my mother every morning,” he continued. “We are waiting for everyone to come back, it is my wish and my daily prayer.”

Almog Meir Jan with his mother, Orit Meir, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. Credit: GPO.

Sign of life

Anat Angrest, the mother of Matan Angrest, who was kidnapped to Gaza severely wounded and unconscious, revealed at the rally that she had received a sign of life regarding him.

“In the video, Matan, my son, is seen looking directly at the camera with wounded eyes and addressing you, prime minister. He shouts: ‘Netanyahu, I don’t understand how this happened, but I’m counting on you to get me out of here,’” Angrest said.

Hagit Chen, the mother of Itay Chen, 19, whose body has been held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since he was killed during the Oct. 7 invasion, also spoke at Saturday’s rally.

“Four months ago, we were informed that my hero, Itay, fell in battle on Oct. 7. A notification that doesn’t allow for burial and shivah, a notification that doesn’t allow for anything except a punch in the gut,” Chen said.

“Nothing prepared me for the nightmare my life has become in the last nine months. There must be a deal to bring back the men, to bring back the soldiers, those alive and those no longer. There must be a deal for everyone, all 120 hostages, because any partial deal will leave our sons in Gaza forever,” she said.

Hagit (left), Itay (center) and Ruby Chen. Photo: Courtesy of Ruby Chen.

Under the first stage of Biden’s framework proposal, Israeli forces would withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and displaced Palestinians would return to their homes in the northern Strip. Hamas would release women, elderly and wounded hostages, in exchange for hundreds of terrorists.

Meanwhile, Israel and Hamas would negotiate the terms of the second phase in which the remaining, male, hostages would be freed in return for Jerusalem releasing additional Palestinian terrorists.

In the third phase, the bodies of dead Israeli civilians and soldiers would be returned to the Jewish state, and the reconstruction of Gaza would begin.

Hamas has reportedly dropped its key demand that Jerusalem commit up front to ending the war as part of any deal, although it is still seeking “written guarantees” from mediators that Israel would continue to negotiate a long-term truce if and when the first phase goes into effect.

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son Sagui, 35, was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, told JNS on Sunday, “Unfortunately, we’ve been here before, this is not the first time certain parties have expressed optimism about the possibility of getting a deal done.

“Speaking for myself, I’ll save the optimism until a deal is actually done and the hostages are home,” he said.

“We’re doing the best we can under horrific circumstances,” Dekel-Chen continued. “I am constantly engaging with government officials in Israel and abroad and doing what I can to keep media attention on the hostages. The families are desperate to keep the focus on the issue so that people do not lose interest.”

Sagui Dekel-Chen and Family
Sagui Dekel-Chen with his wife Avital, his 6-year-old daughter Bar and his 2-year-old daughter Gali. Credit: Courtesy of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
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