Hostage families urge US, other countries to press Israel to reach deal with Hamas

Hostages and Missing Families Forum appeals to countries with citizens in Hamas captivity after terror group said it accepted a deal different from what Jerusalem agreed to

The sister of hostage Shiri Bibas seen at a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
The sister of hostage Shiri Bibas seen at a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Families of hostages held in Gaza have urged the United States and other governments with citizens among the captives to pressure Israel to strike a deal with Hamas for their return.

Following Hamas’s announcement on Monday that it had accepted a truce and hostage release deal proposed by Egyptian and Qatari mediators, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said on Tuesday that it had appealed to a number of countries to “exert your influence on the Israeli government” and push for an agreement.

“At this crucial moment, while a tangible opportunity for the release of the hostages is on the table, it is of the utmost importance that your government manifest its strong support for such an agreement,” the group said in a message sent to the ambassadors of all countries with citizens among the hostages seized by Hamas and other terror groups during the October 7 massacre.

“This is the time to exert your influence on the Israeli government and all other parties concerned to ensure that the agreement comes through which will finally bring all our loved ones home,” it said.

In total, 252 people were taken hostage during the October 7 assault, in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists rampaged across southern Israel and slaughtered some 1,200 people.

Among those captured by the terror group were foreigners and dual nationals, including US, Thai, French, British and Russian citizens.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

There are 128 hostages still in Gaza, at least 35 of whom are thought to be dead, according to the intelligence acquired by the Israel Defense Forces.

The families of the hostages have led weekly protests in Tel Aviv and across Israel to demand the government agree to a deal with Hamas to pause the fighting in Gaza and free the hostages.

Protests erupted in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Monday night after Hamas said the ball was now in Israel’s court, having told mediators it accepted a proposal for a ceasefire and hostage release deal.

Israeli officials said, however, that the terms agreed upon by Hamas were not acceptable as they differed from those previously approved by Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, Israel sent a negotiating team to Cairo on Tuesday to continue talks.

Months of shuttle diplomacy have so far failed to broker a new truce like that which brought about the release of 105 hostages in November.

Previous negotiation efforts stalled because of Hamas’s demand for a complete end to the fighting in Gaza, which Israel has rejected, citing the need to operate in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where four Hamas battalions remain.

Hours after Hamas said it had agreed to an altered hostage deal proposal, Israeli tanks rolled into southern Gaza and captured the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing on the Egyptian border, in what the military called a “pinpoint operation” against the terror group.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel, however, that it was a limited operation aimed at pressuring Hamas to accept a deal, and CNN reported that it was not the broad Rafah offensive that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly promised will be carried out.

A poll published on Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Viterbi Center for Public Opinion suggested a majority of Jewish Israelis think it more important to reach a deal to release the hostages than to push ahead with military action in Rafah.

The survey conducted over the past week, with 600 people interviewed in Hebrew and 150 in Arabic, found that 56 percent of Jewish respondents said a hostage release deal should be of the highest priority for the country’s national interests.

That sentiment was shared by a full 88.5 percent of the Arab Israelis surveyed.

Israel believes that four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are located in Rafah, along with members of the terror group’s leadership and a significant number of the hostages, leading Israel to vow that it will operate in the southern Gaza city regardless of any hostage deal.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that more than 34,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war that erupted in Gaza in the wake of October 7. The unverifiable figures provided by the Hamas health officials do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, however, and Israel said it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and sixty-seven IDF soldiers have been killed in the fighting in Gaza and amid operations on the border.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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