Red Cross chief to meet families of hostages held by Hamas

Mirjana Spoljaric says advocating for captives’ release a ‘key priority;’ ICRC has spoken to terror group about freeing prisoners; foreign minister Cohen to attend Geneva meeting

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger delivers remarks during a press briefing in Avully near Geneva, on June 7, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger delivers remarks during a press briefing in Avully near Geneva, on June 7, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

GENEVA, Switzerland — The Red Cross head will on Tuesday meet family members of several of the 240 people seized in Hamas’s assault in Israel last month and held hostage in the Gaza Strip, the organization said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Health Minister Uriel Buso will also take part in the meeting in Geneva with International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the ICRC said.

“Families of hostages are living through an incredibly heart-wrenching time and I want to underscore how hard we are advocating on behalf of their loved ones,” Spoljaric said.

“This is a key priority for me, and I know the enormous pain the families are enduring,” she said.

The ICRC stressed that it has persistently been advocating on behalf of the hostages held in Gaza, including through direct contacts with Hamas and with others holding influence over the parties.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas after the terror group on October 7 carried out the deadliest attack in Israel’s history. Over 3,000 gunmen burst through the border from Gaza and murderously rampaged through southern regions, overrunning communities and killing an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Terrorists also abducted at least 240 people — including the elderly and infants — who were taken captive to Gaza. The attack came under cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israel, and Hamas, along with other terror groups, has continued to rain rockets on the country, displacing over 200,000 people.

Since then, while waging war against Hamas in Gaza, Israel has agitated for the International Red Cross to be allowed to visit the hostages held in the Strip, but so far the terror group has shown little inclination to permit such visits.

More than 100 of the hostages are said to hold foreign citizenship.

Illustrative: A woman walks past portraits of Israelis taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in the October 7 attack, during a demonstration calling for their release in Tel Aviv on November 13, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Needs ‘safe access’

“Hostage-taking is prohibited under international humanitarian law. We continue to insist on the hostages’ release and are doing everything in our power to gain access to them,” Spoljaric said.

“We are deeply concerned that children, the elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable people are among those held,” she said. “We will not stop working for their release.”

Spoljaric insisted however: “We cannot do this alone; agreements must be reached that allow the ICRC to safely carry out this work.”

“ICRC cannot force its way in to where hostages are held. We can only visit them when agreements, including safe access, are in place,” she said.

The organization said it was continuing to request information on the hostages and their current health condition, adding that it was also working to clarify the fates of those as yet unaccounted for.

“The hostages must be treated humanely, have access to medical care, and be able to communicate with their loved ones,” it said.

“The ICRC stands ready to facilitate their release, as it has done for four hostages so far,” it declared.

Since October 7, four hostages — Judith and Natalie Ra’anan, Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Cooper — have been released by Hamas, and one captive, Ori Megidish, was rescued by IDF troops.

There have been a number of reports in recent days of a possible deal that would secure the release of women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian women and underage detainees held in Israeli prison in relation to security offenses.

Flyers with photos of some of the at least 240 hostages held by Hamas terrorists after their massacre in southern Israel on October 7 are displayed on a utility pole, October 24, 2023, in Surfside, Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged a gathering of foreign envoys that their countries should pressure the ICRC to demand access to the hostages.

Earlier this month, Cohen, the foreign minister, told Spoljaric that the ICRC has “no right to exist if it does not succeed in visiting the hostages being held captive by the Hamas terror group.”

Pro-Israel and Jewish groups around the world have held rallies and organized public displays calling for the hostages to release. Activists have also put up posters in major cities showing the names and faces of hostages under a headline “Kidnapped.”

While advocating for the release of the hostages, the Red Cross stressed that it works to aid victims on all sides of conflict.

In recent weeks, it said it had stepped up its humanitarian response in Gaza, especially its support of emergency health care “amid the dangerous and chaotic conditions.”

“Given the devastating humanitarian impacts in Gaza and Israel, we continue to urge the parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and, in particular, to spare civilians from the conduct of military operations,” it said.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, Israel’s offensive has killed 11,240, also mostly civilians, including thousands of children. The terror group’s number cannot be verified and do not differentiate between civilians and fighters. The numbers also likely include those killed by rockets misfired by Gazan terror groups at Israel that explode inside the Strip.

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