ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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'Time is running out'

Family members of Hamas hostages implore government to seek second release deal

Relatives of hostages describe living nightmare of waiting for news of their loved ones, plead with MKs to secure return of those left in Gaza before it is too late

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza are seen outside a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2023. Yifat Zailer -- cousin of hostage Shiri Bibas, whose young son, baby and husband are also all held -- is at front left. Ofri Bibas is at center. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza are seen outside a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2023. Yifat Zailer -- cousin of hostage Shiri Bibas, whose young son, baby and husband are also all held -- is at front left. Ofri Bibas is at center. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Family members of people held hostage in the Gaza Strip urged the government to restart talks on a deal for their relatives to be freed from Hamas captivity, at meetings held by several parliamentary committees on Monday.

During a meeting with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, relatives of the hostages called for the government to prioritize seeking an agreement for their release through diplomatic channels, rather than pressing on with the military offensive in Gaza against Hamas.

Israel declared war on the Gaza-ruling terror group after its devastating shock October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and around 240 taken hostage.

Following a weeklong truce in late November that saw the release of 105 captives, 138 hostages are still believed to be held in Gaza. In recent days, the IDF confirmed that 18 of those still in captivity have been killed and that Hamas is holding their bodies.

“We saw the fruits of the deal,” Yifat Zeiler, a relative of the Bibas family, said of the November truce. “A military operation will not yield these results right now, not alone.

“I’m sure every soldier or commander in Gaza dreams of finding two redheads,” she added in reference to the Bibas siblings, 4-year-old Ariel and 11-month-old Kfir, who are the last two children still held in Gaza. “This is not on them.

“Every day is significant. What will happen if my family comes back in a bag because we waited another day and didn’t agree to a deal? What will happen to the morale of the soldiers if they return in coffins because we waited another day and they were murdered by terrorists or God forbid by fire from our forces? This is a tragedy.”

The two Bibas children were taken hostage from their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz along with their mother Shiri, who is one of the last few mothers still held in Gaza. Their father Yarden was captured separately.

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza are seen outside a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2023. Yifat Zailer — cousin of hostage Shiri Bibas, whose young son, baby and husband are also all held — is at center. Ofri Bibas is at left. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On November 29, a statement from the Hamas terror group’s military wing asserted that Shiri and her two sons were killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza. The IDF said it was investigating the “cruel and inhumane” claim, but has not provided further updates.

Gaza terror groups have made such claims regarding hostages in the past, seen as part of a psychological warfare campaign.

In a meeting with the Knesset Finance Committee, Ofri Bibas, sister of Yarden, said, “I will try to describe our nightmare to you a little bit. A week or so ago, we received a message from Hamas that Shiri and the children were killed, we still don’t know if it’s 100 percent true.

“I move between searching for a glimmer of hope inside and thinking about what eulogy to read at their graves, or apologizing to my brother that we were not able to bring them home; between the joy that I am pregnant and the thought of whether the baby will know them and the fact that I will name the baby Yarden.”

“They are in hell and their lives are in danger every single moment, and I don’t know where to shout anymore, here in Israel or abroad, and I’m not a person who knows how to shout, I think it is your job to shout, not ours.

“They can’t stay there for even one day more. They’ll die there. Every day we hear about more bodies and more horrors that they’ve endured there. There’s nothing more important than returning them.”

The Bibas family, father Yarden, mother Shiri, baby Kfir and four-year-old Ariel, were taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from Kibbutz Nir Oz. (Courtesy)

In a meeting with the Interior Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee, Linor Dan, a relative of the Calderon family, also appealed for the government to prioritize a diplomatic deal over a military operation to free the hostages.

Dan’s relative Ofer Calderon remains hostage in Gaza following the release of his two children Sahar, 16 and Erez 12, during the weeklong truce.

“The two children were returned to us in a deal,” she said, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “They were not returned to us in a heroic rescue, they were not returned to us in Entebbe, they were returned to us in a deal in which both sides did not fight, both sides talked and returned people alive.”

“Today’s date is not December 11, but October 66,” she added. “The time for the hostages is running out.”

Family members of the hostages are set to hold a protest outside the Knesset on Tuesday under the slogan “The hostages have no time.”

Protesters will drive to the Knesset in caravans and trailers which will set out from several different locations across the country before converging in Latrun at around 1 p.m.

The convoy will then proceed through Jerusalem, arriving at the Knesset at around 5 p.m. for a torchlit parade and rally.

Sleeping accommodations will be provided for those who need them, and on Wednesday, at 8:30 a.m., a second demonstration will be held as MKs arrive to vote on the amended 2023 budget.

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