Israeli families know loved ones' return may rest on full withdrawal from Gaza

The families of seven Israeli hostages spoke in London as an anticipated ceasefire deal collapsed

Avivit Yablonka, left, sister of Chanan Yablonka, hugs Orit Meir, mother of Almog Meir, during a press conference at the Israeli embassy in London with family members of seven hostages taken by Hamas. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

The prospect of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is excruciating for Israelis to consider, the families of hostages said, although some acknowledged it might be necessary to secure the release of their loved ones.

At the Israeli embassy in London on Thursday, the families of seven hostages spoke of their grief, moments before a Hamas delegation walked out of an anticipated ceasefire deal in Cairo. Hamas later confirmed that the negotiations would continue.

Yehuda Cohen, whose 19-year-old son Nimrod was taken at the border, said a release of all hostages would bring an end to the “suffering on all sides".

“We have direct needs for our loved ones to come back. If 134 hostages will march back from Gaza, all this suffering will end,” he said.

Hamas has accused Israel of thwarting efforts to reach a deal by rejecting Hamas's demands for Israel to end its campaign, withdraw its forces, facilitate the entry of aid, and release thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention.

The proposed framework deal, US officials had previously said, included a six-week ceasefire and the release by Hamas of hostages considered vulnerable. This was likely to allow more aid to enter Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians face widespread disease and famine.

Asked whether he would accept a full withdrawal of the Israeli military from Gaza, as per Hamas’s terms, Mr Cohen said: “We wish anything [to be] done for the hostages to be released. We’re not dealing with politics or powerful negotiations. Whatever it will take, this is the total responsibility of our government,” he said.

Gili Roman, who sister was released from Hamas captivity in November, but whose sister-in-law remains a hostage, said the possibility of the Israeli military leaving Gaza with Hamas still in power was excruciating for Israelis.

“Hamas is asking to stay in power, to create more time to do the same as they’ve done on October 7. You can understand how this dilemma is excruciating to every Israeli person,” he said.

He called for the UK to reject such proposals, and for “immense international pressure” to bring Hamas back to the negotiating table.

Any deal, he said, should instead be part of a humanitarian agreement. “They should return hostages as part of the humanitarian agreement, that can also be humanitarian support for the Palestinians,” he said.

"We all need to push them to do the humanitarian thing and to agree to the humanitarian deal that is on the table," he said.

“I don’t think that even the UK should adhere to a demand of a terrorist organisation just to stay in power,” he said.

Orit Meir, mother of hostage Almog Meir, who was kidnapped at the Nova music festival, urged the international community to do everything in its power to bring about a deal that would lead to the hostages being released.

“Think of people you know who can promote a deal to bring back the hostages. We need a deal,” she said.

Ms Meir sobbed as she spoke about 21-year-old Almog, whom she described as a “hippy boy”, and the harrowing five months since his kidnapping. “How I miss him. I miss the coffee we used to drink together. I miss our arguments and our daily conversations,” she said.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 4:52 PM