Families of Gaza hostages call on UN to press Hamas for their release

Security Council urged to demand states fulfil their duty and put end to breaches of international law by Hamas

A rally by the families of Israeli hostages, outside the Israeli Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. AFP
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Families of Israeli hostages urged the UN Security Council on Thursday to condemn the October 7 Hamas attacks and call for the immediate release of hostages held by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.

“There can be no doubt that hostage-taking is prohibited under international law,” said Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, professor of law at Bar-Ilan University and former vice chairwoman of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

"The taking of hostages in the context of an armed conflict is a war crime. They have been violating this prohibition for over 220 days.

“When addressing the mental health impacts of the Hamas attack on October 7 and its aftermath, it is impossible to separate it from the history of the Jewish people who have endured so many forms of calamity and have known captivity, first-hand.”

Ms Halperin-Kaddari urged the Security Council to demand that all states fulfil their duty and put an end to the breaches of international law by Hamas.

She insisted the council use all “its powers” to ensure Hamas is designated as a “terrorist organisation” and impose sanctions on “its commanders and financial supporters".

Ms Halperin-Kaddari said the hostages should be released without conditions.

Also speaking at the US-convened Security Council meeting, Suzanne Haran recounted being “kidnapped” by Hamas from her home, along with her daughter, two grandchildren, sister-in-law and niece.

She described the October 7 attacks as “unimaginable, cruel and deadly”.

“They brought a bulldozer and crashed the safe-room window," Ms Haran said.

"Once the crack was formed, we had three seconds, three seconds to decide surrender or die.

“You cannot even start to imagine what it means to be a hostage held by terrorists – total dependency for every human need, 24/7 control of every move and action.”

US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said bringing home the hostages is a “responsibility that President [Joe] Biden feels to his core”.

“We will not rest until every single hostage is back home,” she said.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield said that according to a March report by the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patton, sexual violence is probably continuing against those being held in Gaza.

“And it really is gut-wrenching and beyond evil,” she said.

“We also know that Hamas and other armed groups have refused to allow the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] medical access to the hostages, many of whom require medical treatment.”

She called on Hamas to “stop fighting today” by releasing the first hostages and take the “deal on the table”.

Israel's military operations in Gaza were launched in retaliation for Hamas's attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.

Since then, the Israeli assault on Gaza has killed more than 35,200 Palestinians, local health officials say.

Hamas seized about 250 hostages, and an estimated 128 Israelis and foreign citizens remain captive in Gaza, including 36 the military says are dead.

The Israeli army said on Thursday that two Thai hostages earlier believed to be alive in Gaza were killed in the October 7 attack and their bodies are being held in the territory.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield called on the Security Council to speak with one voice as it has on other aspects of the Gaza conflict, and unequivocally condemn Hamas.

“Let's be honest, the plight of these hostages has not received the attention that it deserves from the UN Security Council,” she said. “That needs to change.”

Israel's UN representative Gilad Erdan said that the continuing conflict was started by Hamas kidnapping Israelis.

“The reason this war started and continues is because Hamas took our loved ones hostage and has refused to release them,” Mr Erdan said.

Updated: May 17, 2024, 3:29 AM