'The ICRC is guided solely by the interests of the victims'

Red Cross demands Hamas grant immediate access to hostages held in Gaza

Organization says it has been in touch with Israeli officials since the day of the attack, is ready to facilitate release of the kidnapped, estimated at over 150

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Illustrative: A Red Cross vehicle in Gaza (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90)
Illustrative: A Red Cross vehicle in Gaza (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90)

The International Committee of the Red Cross is speaking directly with senior Hamas officials to demand access to Israelis hostages, the ICRC told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

“We are speaking with Hamas at the highest levels, face-to-face,” said Sarah Davies of ICRC Israel and the Occupied Territories. “The plight of loved ones being held hostage is one of our top priorities. We are making demands to see them. We are asking that they be able to contact family members.”

“We are calling for immediate access to those taken hostage, so we can check on their well-being and contact their panicked families who are desperate for news,” she said.

“And we have made it clear that we are ready to facilitate any eventual release.”

Davies said that the ICRC immediately offered its support to Israeli officials on October 7, the day of the attack, and is in regular communication with them.

Families of the hostages have made public calls for the Red Cross to act, and met with ICRC representatives on Friday.

Sharon Lifschitz, left, and Noam Sagi sit down for a press conference of British children of Israeli hostages at a hotel in London, Oct. 12, 2023 (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

She said it was best for the organization to do its work behind the scenes.

“It may feel like we are silent, but I can promise you that we are where it most counts,” Davies said. “We are not outspoken because we know from decades of experience that the way we can best influence change for those we want to help is to keep a low profile and advocate for the best interests of those we want to help behind closed doors, directly with those who have the influence to make a difference.”

Hamas-led attackers who invaded southern communities in Israel last Saturday killed more than 1,300 people and snatched some 150-200 into Gaza as hostages, including babies, young children, women and the elderly.

The ICRC has had a team in the Gaza Strip for decades.

Davies said that the organization would continue its efforts.

She also emphasized that “all forms of sexual violence, when committed in the context of armed conflict either international or non-international, constitute violations under international humanitarian law.”

Footage shared by Hamas on the day of the attack showed evidence of violent rape by the terrorists, including a female soldier being pulled out of a jeep with the seat of her sweatpants covered in blood.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Tel Aviv on Thursday that Hamas raped women in the attack.

Palestinians take a kidnapped Israeli civilian, center, from the Kfar Aza kibbutz into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (Hatem Ali/AP)

“The ICRC is guided solely by the interests of the victims and the desire to relieve their suffering,” Davies said. “The ICRC stands ready to provide whatever humanitarian assistance is required and to visit anyone deprived of their liberty or held captive in our role as a neutral intermediary.”

The office of Gal Hirsch, the special envoy for Israel’s hostages and missing, did not respond to questions on Israel’s work with the ICRC.

Military spokesman Richard Hecht said Sunday it had confirmed 126 people held as hostages by Hamas since the terror group staged its deadly attack eight days earlier. Authorities had initially estimated about 150 Israeli and foreign captives. The figure was up from 120 reported on Saturday, and officials cautioned the number was likely to keep changing in coming days.

Israeli officials say the number of known hostages had been revised down as bodies from the Hamas attack sites in southern Israel have been found and identified. The military has also said its forces had found the bodies of some of the hostages in raids into Gaza, without providing a number.

Hamas has claimed that 22 hostages were killed in Israeli strikes, without providing evidence. It has warned it will kill hostages in response to unannounced Israeli strikes on civilians targets.

AFP contributed to this report.

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