Freed hostages meet UN chief, who says he carries dog tag ‘in my right pocket’

Antonio Guterres tells group that he’s calling for immediate release of all the hostages, prosecution of sex crimes committed by Hamas

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (center) meets with freed Israeli hostages Moran Stela Yanai (left) and Nili Margalit in Davos, Switzerland, on January 18, 2024. (Courtesy Hostage Families Forum)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (center) meets with freed Israeli hostages Moran Stela Yanai (left) and Nili Margalit in Davos, Switzerland, on January 18, 2024. (Courtesy Hostage Families Forum)

Israeli hostages freed from captivity in Gaza met Thursday for the first time with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

According to a statement from the Hostages Families Forum, Guterres told the group that he is calling for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages, as well as an investigation and prosecution of sex crimes committed by Hamas.

Released hostages Nili Margalit and Moran Stela Yanai were among the group meeting with the UN secretary-general, who has faced harsh criticism from Israel for his response to the October 7 atrocities and the ongoing war.

Also at the meeting was Noam Peri, daughter of hostage Chaim Peri, and representatives from the Hostages Families Forum.

Guterres surprised those at the meeting by pulling out of his pocket a dog tag that calls for the release of the hostages, saying, “The dog tag is in the right pocket of my coat, where my hand normally is, and I take it with me everywhere to remember the hostages at every moment,” according to a statement from the forum.

The dog tags, similar to those soldiers carry for identification, have become a symbol of support for securing the release of the hostages, with many Israelis wearing them around their necks every day. The tags are usually inscribed with slogans reading “Together we will win” and “Our hearts are held hostage in Gaza,” along with the demand “Bring them home now.”

Families of hostages in Gaza hold a press conference at ‘Hostages Square,’ outside the Tel Aviv Art Museum, January 7, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas carried out a massive attack on southern Israel that killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Some 3,000 terrorists burst through the border with the Gaza Strip and rampaged murderously through communities. Entire families were killed, women were raped, some victims were tortured and mutilated. The terrorists also abducted at least 240 people of all ages who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power, and free the hostages, 105 of whom were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 27 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin 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.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 18, 2024, alongside a photo of Hamas-held Israeli hostage Kfir Bibas. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

In Davos, the freed hostages also met with a large group of tech executives and business moguls from around the world, telling them their stories and those of the hostages left behind.

Margalit told them that “most of the people I was with in the tunnels are still being held deep underground, and they are terrified and wounded… there is not enough air to breathe, not enough food, and no basic hygiene. The body is so weak that any disease can kill you.”

Stela Yanai said that when she was kidnapped, “I lost everything: control over my life, my freedom, my identity, my self… I was released, but I promised my friends I left behind in captivity that I would do everything I could to bring them back.”

President Isaac Herzog was also at Davos, where he gave an interview on the main stage next to a photo of Israeli hostage Kfir Bibas, who turned one year old Thursday and is the youngest person being held in Gaza.

Herzog said that Israelis are not able to think about a peace process with the Palestinians right now.

“If you ask an average Israeli now about his or her mental state, nobody in his right mind is willing now to think about what will be the solution of the peace agreements,” he said, “because everybody wants to know: Can we be promised real safety in the future?”

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