'They were abandoned on Oct. 7, are abandoned again now'

‘They will return home in coffins’: Hostages’ families rally at PM’s home, demand deal

Mother of Omer Shem-Tov calls on public to stand with families of those held in Gaza: ‘Get off the sofa and give Netanyahu and the cabinet the mandate to bring our loved ones home’

Carmit Palty Katzir holds a poster of her brother Elad as relatives and friends of hostages sit on a street outside the private residence of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Caesarea, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Carmit Palty Katzir holds a poster of her brother Elad as relatives and friends of hostages sit on a street outside the private residence of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Caesarea, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Relatives of the hostages held in Gaza rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea on Saturday after they camped out overnight to protest what they said was the government’s inaction in securing the release of their loved ones, asserting that “time has run out” for those held by terrorists in the Strip.

Shelly Shem-Tov, whose 21-year-old son Omer is among the hostages held in Gaza, issued a desperate plea for supporters to stand with the families to show the government that there was public support for a deal.

“Do you know where your child slept last night?” she asked viewers. “Can you call your child right now and ask how he is? For 105 days, I haven’t known where my child is,” she cried.

“I know he is with murderers and I feel like we are getting confused again. One-hundred-and-five days ago I screamed my soul out at Kaplan Street and said that enough is enough. And now one hundred and five days later, we are getting confused again,” she said, speaking to Channel 12 from a sailing event in honor of her son.

“Get up off the sofa and come and support us in Caesarea, at the prime minister’s house. Stand with us. The families of the abductees are your family,” she said. “This is not political. We need your support to give Netanyahu and the cabinet the mandate to bring our loved ones home.”

Omer was attending the Re’im music festival on October 7 when Hamas’s terror onslaught began. He suffers from asthma, as well as celiac disease, which doesn’t require medication, but means eating food with gluten — such as bread, which many released hostages have said was the main sustenance provided in Hamas captivity — is dangerous for him.

Shelly Shem-Tov, whose son Omer is held hostage in Gaza, pleads for a deal to be made for his release, January 20, 2024. (Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Carmit Palty Katzir, whose mother Hanna was released from Gaza during November’s temporary truce, said that while it was too late for her father Rami who was murdered on October 7, there was still a chance to save her brother Elad, who is still being held in Gaza.

“My mother returned from captivity after 49 days, I can’t imagine what condition the people are in after 105 days,” Palty Katzir said. Hanna Katzir returned from Gaza in dire medical condition.

“For 105 days, the Israeli government abandoned them to their fate, to death, to IDF bombings, abandoned them to the hands of psychopathic murderers,” she said.

Addressing Netanyahu and the government, Palty Katzir said: “Their blood is on your hands. Their lives are your responsibility. You abandoned them on October 7, you continue to abandon them now. With every day that passes, they will return home in coffins.”

“You have two options: either make a deal, or leave the house and say ‘Carmit, I choose to sacrifice your brother’s life because the defeat of Hamas is more important to me,'” she said.

“They tell us that they are doing everything they can, but that’s not true, you are lying to us. They only do one thing – military pressure, and their military pressure kills abductees,” she said.

“Their pressure killed Yossi Sharabi and Itai Svirsky who survived 99 days in captivity, and for what? If you did everything you could, you would stop the fighting and release the abductees,” she said.

Relatives and friends of hostages sit on a camp set up outside the private residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Caesarea, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Palty Katzir was apparently referring to the assertion by Merav Svirsky, sister of hostage Itay Svirsky who was declared this week to have been killed in Gaza, that according to the IDF, Svirsky had been killed by his captors after a nearby Israeli strike. Sharabi was also declared dead this week.

Gil Dickmann, a cousin of Carmel Gat who was taken to Gaza by Hamas on October 7, said that police had separated the relatives of the hostages from the members of the public who had come to support them.

“It’s a disgrace that the police are separating the families from the supporters,” he said. “All of the hostages need to come home right now. Sign the deal and bring them home.”

The families called for Netanyahu to come out and speak to them.

“The days of grace in which you dragged your feet are over,” said a statement from the Hostage Families’ Forum, addressing the premier.

Eli Shtivi, father of hostage Idan Shtivi, also in Caesarea, said he was starting a hunger strike.

“The hostages are being tortured,” he said. “We can’t wait… We’ve passed 100 days, it was our red line. From here our actions will become increasingly severe.”

Eli Shtivi, whose 28-year-old son Idan has been held in Gaza since he was kidnapped from the Supernova music festival on Oct. 7, stands on a street outside the private residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Caesarea, Jan. 20, 2024. Shtivi has begun a hunger strike. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The protest came after Hebrew media reports said Netanyahu unilaterally decided Wednesday to toughen a series of guidelines set recently by the government for a potential deal to release the remaining hostages held by the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, angering fellow members of the war cabinet.

As Sunday marked 100 days since the beginning of the war and the hostages’ abduction, the war cabinet was reportedly split on the parameters it would accept for a hostage deal. War cabinet observer Gadi Eisenkot was pushing for a long truce in exchange for the hostages’ freedom, which his National Unity party leader Benny Gantz supported, but Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant were strongly opposed.

Netanyahu and Gallant have repeatedly said that the only way to get the hostages back is to keep applying military pressure on Gaza by continuing the war.

A deal in November secured the release of 105 hostages during a weeklong truce. As part of the deal, Israel agreed to extend the truce by one day for every 10 hostages that were released. In return for every Israeli hostage, three female or underage Palestinians were released from prison.

View of protest tents set up by families of Israelis held hostage by terrorists in Gaza, outside a private residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Caesarea, January 20, 2024. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

In another agreement this week, Israel secured the delivery of essential medications into Gaza for some of the hostages who suffer from chronic diseases and require prescription medication. A senior Hamas official said that for every box of medicine going into Gaza for hostages, there were 1,000 additional boxes for Palestinians in Gaza.

The families of the hostages say that they have not received proof that the medications have reached their loved ones.

Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7 which resulted in the deaths of some 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, and with around 250 others taken hostage.

It is believed that 132 of those now remain in Gaza, though not all of them are alive. Four hostages were released prior to the November deal, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 27 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also 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.

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