'We saw a chance for people to come out'

Families of hostages still in Gaza call collapse of truce a ‘very hard blow’

Relatives of abducted Israelis say they hope deal can be struck to bring back their loved ones, as fighting resumes between Israel and Hamas

Israelis take part in a prayer for the release of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, December 1, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis take part in a prayer for the release of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, December 1, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The families of hostages still being held in Gaza on Friday said the collapse of a truce that saw scores of abducted Israelis freed was a “very hard blow” to bear.

Under an agreement between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that slaughtered 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7 and abducted some 240 people, the hostages were being released at a rate of some 10 each day, forcing the families to endure an agonizing waiting game.

But when the pause in the conflict ended early Friday, with Israel and the US accusing Hamas of violating the ceasefire terms, there was bitter disappointment for the families of those still not freed.

“We saw a chance for people to come out, be reunited with their families and resume their old lives,” said Ilan Zharia, the uncle of 20-year-old Eden Yerushalmi, one of the women not to have been released.

His niece and other young women detainees had been “very close to being freed,” he said, speaking at an event in Tel Aviv organized by the Hostage Families Forum.

During the week-long truce which ended early on Friday, 81 Israeli hostages taken during the unprecedented Hamas assault on southern Israel were exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Twenty-four foreign hostages — 23 Thai nationals and 1 Filipino — were also released separately from the deal.

Supporters hold flags as freed Israeli hostages arrive in a vehicle outside an army base in southern Israel early on December 1, 2023. (Oren ZIV / AFP)

As part of the agreement, Israel also released three female and underage Palestinian security prisoners for each hostage, and allowed more aid to enter Gaza, where about 80 percent of the population is displaced and short of food and water.

Still held hostage by Gaza terror groups when the truce collapsed were 136 people — 114 men, 20 women and two children — government spokesperson Eylon Levy said. Ten of the hostages are 75 and older. The vast majority of the hostages, 125, are Israeli. Eleven are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand.

Around 1,200 people, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, were killed in the October 7 onslaught.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and unleashed an air and ground campaign that the Gaza-ruling terror group says has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians. The figures, which do not differentiate between civilians and terrorists, cannot be verified independently and are believed to also include Gazans killed by malfunctioning rockets fired by Palestinian terror factions.

‘Release the injured’

A visibly emotional Zharia appealed for ways to be found to continue the hostage releases despite the resumption of hostilities.

“We ask the Qatari and Egyptian intermediaries… we ask everyone, our country, Hamas, to sit down and find another framework to release hostages,” he said, adding it was the “responsibility of all of us” to ensure they were not abandoned.

As the hours ticked down to the end of the truce, visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israeli leaders for an extension.

“Clearly, we want to see this process continue to move forward… We want an eighth day and beyond,” he told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Negotiators have until now concentrated on securing the release of women and children.

The release of male hostages and soldiers, male and female, is likely to be much harder to negotiate, with their captors expected to demand a high price for their freedom.

People pass a mural in Florentine, southern Tel Aviv, calling for the release of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. November 28, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Eli Shtivi, whose son Idan was kidnapped while attending the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im, described the return of the hostages as “essential, and in particular the injured.”

“The injured are suffering there and are not receiving care,” he said, adding that they “should have been released first.”

Despite the resumption of the fighting in Gaza on Friday, mediators were continuing to shuttle between the two sides.

Tamar Tsoar, grandmother of 22-year-old hostage Omer Neutra, said she hoped an agreement could be reached to allow the release of more hostages, including soldiers like her granddaughter.

“We hope that the process will soon be resumed and that we will be able to take our Tomer in our arms along with all the other hostages,” she said.

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