Smotrich, Ben Gvir could bolt coalition if offensive nixed

Hamas airs clip of 2 hostages, as FM says Israel would delay Rafah op for a deal

Sign of life from Omri Miran and Israeli-American Keith Siegel ups pressure on government to okay deal; Miran’s father urges Sinwar: ‘Show humanity’

Hostages Keith Siegel (right) and Omri Miran are seen in a Hamas propaganda video aired April 27, 2024. (Screenshot: Telegram)
Hostages Keith Siegel (right) and Omri Miran are seen in a Hamas propaganda video aired April 27, 2024. (Screenshot: Telegram)

Hamas issued a new propaganda video Saturday showing signs of life from two hostages — the second such clip in three days — as pressure mounts on the government to approve a truce and hostage release deal. Israelis awaited the terror group’s response to the government’s latest proposal for an accord following intense Egyptian mediation.

The video showed hostages Keith Siegel, 64, and Omri Miran, 46, civilians who were kidnapped from their hometowns during the Hamas-led onslaught of October 7.

The edited three-minute-long video appeared to be directed at the Israeli public, with Hamas making the case that military pressure had failed to bring about the release of the hostages and that Israelis should continue to pressure their own leaders to compromise.

In the clip, Siegel and Miran identified themselves, addressed their families, and said they were hoping for a hostage deal that would see them and other hostages returned home.

The video ended with a message from the Palestinian terror group to the Israeli public: “Your Nazi leaders don’t care about the fate of your captive sons or about their feelings. Do what is needed before it is too late.”

The video was not dated, but Miran said he had been held captive for 202 days and Siegel mentioned the Passover holiday, indicating the clips were likely filmed recently. The war is on its 204th day.

Miran was taken captive by Hamas terrorists from Kibbutz Nahal Oz during the onslaught, when terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253 others. Siegel, a dual Israeli-US citizen, was taken captive with his wife from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. His wife Aviva Siegel was released in a November deal that saw over 100 hostages freed.

Hamas has previously issued several similar videos of hostages being held, in what Israel says is deplorable psychological warfare. The last of them was issued on Wednesday and showed Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin similarly urging Israelis to pressure their government to reach a deal soon.

The uptick in the release of videos comes as Israel has ratcheted up preparations for a long-expected offensive in Rafah, Hamas’s last major bastion in Gaza.

Most Israeli media, including The Times of Israel, does not usually carry the video clips unless the families of those shown in them give permission to the media to distribute. The families of Siegel and Miran approved Saturday’s video for publication.

Miran’s father Dani reacted to the video Saturday evening, addressing thousands of protesters at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square during weekly rallies calling for a hostage deal. “I hope a deal will really happen now,” he said.

“As I had expected, he had a beard. Because he has nothing to shave with,” Dani said of his son. “I saw another thing: I inspected each millimeter in the image. I saw he’s not brushing his teeth, either.”

Dani, who has grown a beard himself since his son was taken, vowed to shave it off with his son when he returns.

Dani Miran speaks at a rally in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square on April 27, 2024, soon after Hamas released a propaganda video of his son Omri, who was abducted on October 7 and is held by Hamas in Gaza. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Miran also called on Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza and accused mastermind of the October 7 atrocities, to “make a small step and spare bloodshed for both peoples.” Addressing Sinwar, he continued: “Show some humanity and [Israel’s] cabinet will reciprocate, I am sure of it.”

To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war cabinet, Miran said: “Approve any deal — any deal — that’s feasible. I implore you, one request: Make the decision now.”

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum — the main body representing the families of the 133 hostages still being held in Gaza — reacted to the video by saying that the signs of life were proof of the need for the government “to do everything to approve a deal to return the hostages before Independence Day: for the living to be rehabilitated, and for the murdered to be buried with dignity.”

Independence Day will be held this year on May 14.

A separate group that says it represents some 20 families of hostages issued a more hardline statement, contending that the government now had to make a stark choice between returning the hostages and continuing the war against Hamas.

Families of hostages and their supporters block the Ayalon Highway on April 27, 2024, as they demand a deal to release their loved ones. The Hebrew letter spells out the word “Enough”. (Amir Goldstein: Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

In a statement to the media from Tel Aviv, the group charged that military pressure, which the government had said was the best path to bringing their loved ones home, had failed.

“If the only way to reach a comprehensive hostage deal is to end the war, agree to pay the price — end the war in order to return the hostages home,” they said.

“The State of Israel must choose: hostages or war. Entering Rafah will bring about more murders of hostages in captivity, or lead to their deaths in the war. Entering Rafah will be another way for the abductees to die. Israel must choose to return the hostages,” the statement added.

The families also called on war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot — whose National Unity party joined an emergency government a few days after the war began — to seek to replace Netanyahu, arguing that their efforts to influence the government to reach a deal had so far failed.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Hamas has also been 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

The Rafah-hostage connection

Netanyahu has for months been promising an imminent military offensive in Rafah, believed to be where most of the remaining hostages are being held underground and where Hamas leaders are hiding, but also where over a million Gazans are sheltering as a result of the devastation dealt by the war to the rest of the Strip. Israel has assured the United States that it will first work to safely evacuate civilians.

There has been intense international pressure on Israel not to enter Rafah. However, Netanyahu’s job could be on the line if one isn’t launched. Far-right coalition leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir — whose parties are essential for Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority — have long pushed for intensifying military pressure on Hamas, arguing that the premier is sidelining them.

According to Kan news, on Friday, Smotrich and Ben Gvir threatened during a meeting of the high-level security cabinet that if the Rafah offensive is called off, they could bolt the government. The broadcaster cited unnamed security cabinet sources.

Channel 12 news reported Saturday that Smotrich and Ben Gvir are also both opposed to the latest Israeli terms, conveyed to Hamas, for a hostage release deal.

Smotrich publicly hinted as much on Friday, writing on X: “Mr. prime minister, this should be crystal clear — you don’t have a mandate for this! Capitulation to Nazis does not appear in the basic principles of our government.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

However, as intensive Egypt-mediated talks over the potential hostage deal continue, Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Channel 12 news Saturday that if a deal is reached, Israel will delay an operation in Rafah.

Israel has reportedly indicated that it will move ahead with the offensive if Hamas delays its response or rejects the latest offer.

“The release of the hostages is the top priority for us,” Katz said during the interview. Asked if that included putting off the planned operation to eliminate Hamas battalions in Rafah, Katz answered: “Yes.” He went on to say: “If there will be a deal, we will suspend the operation.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Saturday night reiterated a pledge to provide the government with the votes it needs to approve a hostage deal if Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich were to take their parties out of Netanyhu’s coalition and oppose it.

“There is a majority among the people and in the Knesset for deal, and if you need to get rid of Ben Gvir and Smotrich, I will give you 24 votes in the government,” Lapid wrote on X, formerly Twitter, referring to the number of parliamentary seats his Yesh Atid party holds. “We must bring [the hostages] home.”

The reported Israeli proposal

According to Friday reports about Israel’s latest proposal, Israel expects Hamas to release 33 living hostages who meet the so-called humanitarian designation — that is, women, children, men aged over 50 and the sick — while Hamas claims to hold only 20 hostages who meet that designation.

A Channel 12 report on Saturday added, without citing a source and without elaborating, that an accompanying truce in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza would last one more day for each extra hostage released. It was not clear how this would relate to reports in recent weeks that the first phase of a deal would provide for a 42-day truce.

The report also said the terms being conveyed would provide for a subsequent phase of negotiations, in which an end to the war and the release of all further hostages would be discussed. It stressed that Israel would not have to commit to ending the war as a condition for the initial release of the 33 “humanitarian” hostages.

Hamas has since the November deal conditioned the release of any further hostages on Israel ending the war — a demand Netanyahu has rejected as delusional.

A boy helps a vendor arrange his merchandise as he sets up before the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024 (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Responding to the TV report, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Saturday that “Israel did not agree to an end to the war, to a withdrawal from the Strip, or to other demands that Hamas presented.

“Israel did not accept the Egyptian demands, and presented its own conditions for a deal,” said the official, without expanding on those terms.

Israel anticipates an answer from Hamas in the next 48 hours to its latest proposals, Channel 12 reported Saturday evening.

Earlier in the day, a senior Hamas official said the terror group was reviewing the new Israeli proposal.

“Today, the Hamas movement received the official Zionist occupation response to the movement’s position, which was delivered to the Egyptian and Qatari mediators on April 13,” Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy head of Hamas’s political arm in Gaza, said in a statement.

“The movement will study this proposal, and upon completion of its study, it will submit its response,” he said.

The official gave no details of Israel’s offer, but said it was in response to a proposal from Hamas two weeks ago.

Later, a senior Hamas official told the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese al-Mayadeen news station that the terror group sees a low chance of accepting the recent Israeli offer without “fundamental amendments.”

“The Israeli proposal that was presented does not reflect a fundamental change in the Israeli position. It does not give clear answers to the issue of the withdrawal [from Gaza] and a full ceasefire,” the official said, without providing details on the proposal.

Meanwhile, a top Qatari official claimed Saturday that both Israel and Hamas lack commitment to reaching a deal, lamenting that the Gulf kingdom and main mediator in the hostage talks has, over several months of failed talks, become “the punching bag for those trying to protect their political futures.”

Majed Al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry and an adviser to the country’s prime minister, told Haaretz that “every time we get close to a deal, there’s sabotage… from both sides.”

Tal Schneider and Reuters contributed to this report.

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