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Families of Israelis held hostage in Gaza by Hamas are turning to the US and Europe for help with securing their release after a month in captivity.
Vigils and special ceremonies were held across Israel on Tuesday to mark one month since Hamas militants entered from the Gaza Strip and killed about 1,400 people, mainly civilians, and took about 240 hostages including women, children and the elderly.
Israel retaliated with military strikes that have killed more than 10,300 Gaza residents, including 4,300 children, and its troops are now poised to enter Gaza city in an operation to destroy Hamas and recover hostages believed to be held in the group's vast network of tunnels.
Omri Almog, who attended a prayer service in Tel Aviv, said he planned to visit Brussels to ask EU officials for help in securing the release of his sister and three of her children who were abducted on October 7.
“My family is broken. It is never going to be the same,” Mr Almog told The National.
“We have to do the best we can to bring what’s left of the family back to Israel.”
Mr Almog’s sister’s family lived in Kfar Aza, a community about three kilometres from the Gaza border that was among the hardest hit in the Hamas assault.
His brother-in-law Nadav Goldshtein, 49, and niece Yam Goldshtein Almog, 20, were killed, while his sister Chen Goldshtein Almog, 49, her daughter Agam, 17, and sons Gal, 11, and Tal, 9, were taken hostage.
“Whatever happens in Israel now, it’s less important than to get support from out of Israel, from the world,” he said.
“I will go to Europe for a few days and then will go again and again to meet people in the governments to see if they can help us.”
‘Believe they are alive’
Mr Almog stayed in contact with his eldest niece for hours as the family hid in their safe room after Hamas gunmen stormed the house.
“Yam was sending messages to her friends, to me,” he said.
“She said there were people injured in the kibbutz and asked for help."
He lost touch around noon on October 7 and learnt after more than 24 hours from the army that the bodies of Nadav and Yam were found at their home and that the rest of the family were taken hostage.
"We don’t know where my sister and children are, if they get food or medicine, but we have a strong belief that they are alive," Mr Almog said.
“My sister is strong mentally and physically, she will do the best she can to keep those kids alive.”
Hostages are priority
While families of the hostages support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to declare war on Hamas, they are also demanding answers about the return of their loved ones. Five hostages have been freed so far – four who were released by Hamas and one who was rescued by the army.
Relatives have protested outside Mr Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, while other protesters are camped outside the parliament in Jerusalem and the army headquarters in Tel Aviv to keep up pressure on the government.
Mr Netanyahu on Monday said Israel would consider “tactical little pauses” in the Gaza campaign to allow for the entry of humanitarian aid or departure of hostages.
He repeated Israel’s rejection of a ceasefire without the release of all captives.
Mr Almog and other relatives say the goal of the Israeli government should be to get the hostages home.
“The top priority is to bring the hostages back to Israel,” Mr Almog said.
“This is what Israel owes to the citizens of Israel."
The hostages' relatives also want to reach out to governments in the Middle East.
“We need to talk to people who have any kind of connection that can help us get our family back – Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,” Mr Almog said.
“Israel is working to fight a war and to finish Hamas. But we as a people will do everything to get what is left of our family back.
“We as people have nothing to lose.”
No time to mourn
Some relatives are in the US and say they will not stop appealing for assistance until their families are returned.
Or Gat’s elderly mother was shot dead at point-blank range in Kibbutz Be’eri, while his sister and sister-in-law were taken hostage. His brother-in-law and three-year-old niece managed to escape while being driven to Gaza by Hamas militants.
“I’m not stopping to think about today and tomorrow – that this is one month after,” Mr Gat said from Washington.
“I was in New York and Miami meeting anyone I can – senators and congressmen.
“I would like to talk to Qatar, to the Emirates and to any government that can help us.
“I will not be observing today. I’m doing everything besides mourning my mother.”