Herzog meets UAE leader on sidelines of climate summit in push to free Gaza hostages

At COP28, Israel’s president appeals for Emirati chief ‘to employ his full political weight’ and help free remaining hostages held by Gaza terror groups since October 7

This handout photo shows President Isaac Herzog meeting with his Emirati counterpart Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Dubai, November 30, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
This handout photo shows President Isaac Herzog meeting with his Emirati counterpart Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Dubai, November 30, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — President Isaac Herzog met his Emirati counterpart on the sidelines of UN climate talks on Thursday as part of a diplomatic push to release hostages held by Hamas.

Herzog’s visit to the United Arab Emirates comes nearly eight weeks after Hamas’s deadly October 7 onslaught in southern Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza and coincides with a day-long extension to a truce that has seen Israeli hostages freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

During his meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Herzog underlined “the necessity to act in any way possible to free the Israeli hostages held captive by the murderous terrorist organization Hamas,” a statement from his office said.

He “appealed” to his Emirati counterpart “to employ his full political weight to promote and speed up the return home of the hostages,” the statement said.

In a separate statement on X, formerly Twitter, Herzog said he would hold “a series of diplomatic meetings” in Dubai to push for the release of hostages.

More than 140 heads of state and government are due to address COP28 on Friday and Saturday, including Herzog, who is scheduled to make a three-minute speech on Friday.

“In my meetings with world leaders I intend to raise the firm demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza,” Herzog said.

“In addition, I will detail and emphasize efforts to provide more and more humanitarian aid to the civilians of Gaza,” he added.

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber speaks during the opening session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, Thursday, November 30, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had also been scheduled to speak at COP28 but his office said he was no longer going and his foreign minister would take his place.

Since the temporary truce began on November 24, 75 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners.

Around 30 foreigners, most of them Thais working in Israel, have been freed outside the terms of the deal.

Israel has made clear it sees the truce as a temporary halt intended to free hostages, but there are growing calls for a more sustained pause in the conflict.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza was triggered on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel from across the Gaza border, unleashing an attack on southern Israel in which they killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took some 240 hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and launched an aerial offensive and subsequent ground campaign aimed at toppling the terror group.

The Hamas-run health ministry has said that since October 7, some 15,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians. The numbers provided by Hamas cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include members of Hamas and other terror groups, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

The war has cast a shadow over the UN climate talks in Dubai with activists demanding a permanent ceasefire and an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip enacted by both Israel and Egypt.

The UAE is one of the few Arab states to recognize Israel, having established ties in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. But it is at pains to show solidarity with Palestinians.

It has dispatched a 150-bed field hospital to Gaza and has pledged to take in 2,000 Palestinians, including 1,000 children and an equal number of cancer patients, for treatment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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