'Worst of all nights'

Families of hostages meet PM after demanding to speak to him as Gaza op intensifies

IDF says that freeing the captives is a national imperative and the military’s efforts are aimed at achieving this goal even as it steps up airstrikes and sends troops into Strip

Graffiti calling for the release of  Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, October 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Graffiti calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, October 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Families of some of the 229 confirmed hostages held in the Gaza Strip issued an urgent appeal on Saturday for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and the other members of the war cabinet amid fears for the safety of their loved ones as the military conducted a massive strike on Hamas tunnels and bunkers in the northern part of the enclave and ground forces went in.

Netanyahu agreed and met with representatives in the evening.

“This night was the worst of all nights,” said the earlier statement issued on behalf of the families.

“It was an unending night, against the background of the IDF’s major operation in the Gaza Strip, and complete uncertainty regarding the fate of the abductees who are being held there and are also subject to the heavy bombardment,” the statement said.

During its shock terror assault on Israel on October 7, Hamas terrorists killed over 1,400 people, a majority of them civilians, during raids on over 20 border communities near the Gaza Strip, slaughtering entire families in their homes and some 260 at an outdoor music festival. Terrorists also took over 230 hostages, including women, children and elderly people, dragging them into the Gaza Strip where they remain captive.

“Anxiety, frustration, and especially enormous anger that nobody from the war cabinet bothered to meet with the families of the abductees to explain to them one thing — whether the ground operation endangers the safety of the 229 hostages in Gaza,” the statement read.

“The families are anxious for the fate of their loved ones and are waiting for an explanation. Every minute that passes feels like an eternity,” it said.

People protest demanding the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, October 27, 2023. (Flash90)

While there was no immediate response from Netanyahu, Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the fate of the hostages was playing a key role in military considerations.

“We are operating according to objectives that were set out for us: dismantling Hamas, protecting the borders, and a national effort to return the hostages,” Hagari told reporters Saturday.

“All of these together are part of our judgment, our assessments, our progress, and the decision-making,” he said. “We will make the most correct operational decisions, with these objectives as our compass,” Hagari continues.

“Bringing the hostages home is a national effort of utmost importance, and all our activities, operational, intelligence, are aimed at realizing this objective,” he added.

Gallant’s office said he would meet with the families on Sunday.

Israeli warplanes pounded northern Gaza overnight Friday, hitting more than 150 underground tunnels and bunkers of the Hamas terror group as tanks and other forces pushed into the Strip in a limited incursion, the military said.

This image grab from AFP TV footage shows fire and smoke rising above Gaza City during an Israeli strike on October 27, 2023. (Yousef Hassouna/AFP)

Released captives have described being kept in a “spiderweb” of underground tunnels and rooms.

Explosions from continuous airstrikes lit up the sky over Gaza City for hours after nightfall Friday. The Israel Defense Forces said a number of Hamas terrorists had been killed in the airstrikes and in several clashes with troops inside Gaza.

There were no reports of Israeli casualties and the ground forces, including infantry, combat engineering forces and tanks, remained inside Gaza on Saturday morning, operating deeper into the Hamas-run territory than previous limited incursions.

The military said it would soon hold assessments as to what the next stages will be, either expanding ground operations further, pausing the ongoing raid, or changing to another set of plans.

The Hamas terror group on Thursday made an unverified claim that “almost 50” of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

There was no independent verification, and Israel has not reacted to such claims in the past. Hamas frequently fabricates such statements and is also engaged in psychological warfare against the families of the hostages as well as the general population.

A still from a video released by Hamas’s armed wing showing hostages Yocheved Lifshitz, left, and Nurit Cooper before their release from captivity, October 23, 2023. (Screen capture)

Hamas has released four hostages since its October 7 terror massacre, including an American-Israeli mother and daughter, and two elderly Israeli women, in a deal brokered by Qatar, which hosts both a US military base and Hamas’s political bureau.

Israel has dismissed reports that a hostage deal was progressing quickly, saying these were further examples of Hamas’s psychological warfare. Israel has publicly insisted that the hostages must be released unconditionally.

On Thursday, the families of the hostages held a press conference to protest what they charged was government inaction and failure to update them on the efforts to secure the release of their loved ones.

They warned that their patience had run out.

Emanuel Fabian and agencies contributed to this report

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