Families of soldier hostages say Netanyahu offered ‘nothing new’ in meeting

Yehuda Cohen, father of captive Nimrod Cohen, says PM told them he must make the ‘cold calculations’; parents of US hostages say they are treated better by White House

Families of Israeli soldiers abducted by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, give a statement to the media after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, March 28, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Families of Israeli soldiers abducted by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, give a statement to the media after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, March 28, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The families of IDF soldiers being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza appeared dissatisfied on Thursday following a direct meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since October 7.

Previously, the prime minister has met with the families of all hostages or families of female soldiers, but this was the first time the prime minister met with family members of male soldiers being held captive.

Yehudah Cohen, whose son Nimrod Cohen is being held captive by Hamas, told Haaretz following the meeting that Netanyahu refused to answer when he was asked what price he was willing to pay to get the hostages back.

He also said the prime minister told the families that he understood their pain and that they were willing to pay any price to return their loved ones, but that “as the decision maker, I need to look at things from another angle and make the cold calculations.”

In a statement after the meeting, Ruby Chen, the father of soldier Itay Chen, who was killed by Hamas and whose body is still being held by the terrorist organization, said that Netanyahu did not offer anything new to the families.

“The prime minister has a policy he believes in, and even after 174 days, he continues to toe that line,” said Chen.

Itay Chen, 19, from Netanya, was declared killed in action and his body was seized by Hamas on October 7, 2023, while on duty near the Gaza border (Courtesy)

He said that the families had tried to talk to Netanyahu about the difference between military security and social security, which is “no less important for the citizens of the State of Israel.”

Hamas has learned its lesson, Chen said, suggesting that social security was no less important than further successes Israel may gain in the war against the terrorist organization.

Rabbi Doron Perez, whose son Daniel Perez‘s body is being held in Gaza, told the press that he wanted to impress upon Netanyahu the “unimaginable transition after 163 days from a family hoping and praying for their son’s return to being told that he was murdered on October 7.”

Daniel was believed to be alive until earlier this month when the army announced its findings indicating that he was killed during Hamas’s attack on southern Israel, in which terrorists murdered close to 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253.

Perez told Netanyahu that he had asked his wife how she felt knowing that their son was killed, and that she said she felt relief to know that he hadn’t lived to experience the horrors of captivity.

“What sort of world do we live in that knowing your son has been murdered is a relief?” the bereaved father said.

Daniel Perez was killed and taken hostage by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, from near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. (Israel Defense Forces)

Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer Neutra is a US-born lone soldier being held captive by Hamas, said his son had enlisted because he “was a proud Zionist who came here out of faith in his path and a desire to contribute to the country.”

Ronen said he had asked Netanyahu if “we will get 134 Ron Arads back, God forbid,” referencing the Air Force navigator Ron Arad who was captured by Hezbollah in 1986. While Arad is believed to have died in captivity in 1988, his body has never been recovered.

Meanwhile, two unnamed sources who were present at the meeting told Axios that they told Netanyahu that the families are being treated better by the White House than by the Israeli government.

Several of the soldiers who are being held hostage in Gaza have dual US-Israeli citizenship, and their families have met with US President Joe Biden, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CIA director Bill Burns, and other US officials multiple times in the last six months.

One of the sources told Axios that the White House embraces the families and keeps them informed, while Netanyahu’s government does not. According to the report, Netanyahu responded that he must say “no” to the US when necessary, and that Washington is not applying enough pressure on Qatar to reach a deal.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, with 34 of them declared dead by Israeli authorities based on intelligence, and the fate of the others unknown. During a weeklong truce in November, 105 hostages were released, after four were freed earlier, and three have been rescued by troops alive. The bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

American-born Omer Neutra is presumed taken captive by Hamas on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin in Gaza since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Talks in Qatar for another hostage deal have repeatedly failed as both sides accuse each other of failing to be reasonable. Hamas has continued to demand that Israel withdraw from Gaza as part of the deal despite Israel’s insistence that the war will continue until its proclaimed goal of dismantling the terrorist organization is achieved.

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