The relatives of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas into Gaza joined a rally in Brussels on Wednesday, asking European leaders to use their political clout to ensure the immediate release of their loved ones.
"Words do not describe this feeling that I do not wish anyone to feel," Shira Havron told Euronews. "I think of my family watching their homes burning, hiding - terrified - being separated from each other, watching each other suffer, taken violently into the unknown."
The 27-year-old Israeli student, was on holiday in London over the weekend when the terrorist group Hamas launched its coordinated attack on Israel, massacring over 1,000 and kidnapping 150.
It is believed that among those taken hostage are eleven members of her family, including her cousins eight-year-old Naveh, and Yahel, who is just three.
Shira now lives in Tel Aviv but spent her childhood in Be'eri, a kibbutz in southern Israel built by her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and where her family still reside. Be'eri lies just five kilometres from the Gaza border and was one of the early sites targeted by Hamas on Saturday morning. More than 100 bodies were found.
Shira was initially able to exchange messages with her family as they hid in a shelter while Hamas terrorists raided the kibbutz, but then contact was lost.
"Many hours passed by, and the silence became louder and louder. And it still does since Saturday morning," Shira told a solemn crowd in front of the European Parliament.
Her uncle's telephone was later located in the Gaza strip.
Also at the rally was Jonathan Guttman, 31, a medical graduate who lives in Prague. His cousin Evyatar, 23, was celebrating the Jewish festival of Sukkot at the Supernova festival in southern Israel when Hamas militants stormed in, killing an estimated 260 people.
His family believes Evyatar is among the hostages after videos have emerged showing him held by Hamas militants handcuffed with cable ties, and being walked into the Gaza strip. The Israeli Defence Forces have also stated they believe Evyatar has been abducted.
Both Shira and Jonathan pleaded with EU leaders to do use their political clout to ensure the return of their loved ones home.
"My message is, do everything in your power to get these people out. You know it's the right thing, a human thing to do. These are the values of the European Union: equality, human rights," Jonathan said.
"Please help us get them out," Shira pleaded, "please put the pressure on the right people, on global leaders, on anyone that can help our government set them free."
An 'EU responsibility'
Dan Sobovitz, one of the organisers of the rally who sits on the Board of Directors of the Brussels-based Secular Jewish Community Center (CCLJ), told Euronews the relatives had a productive meeting with EU leaders, including European Council President Charles Michel, earlier on Wednesday.
"This is not only the responsibility of the Israeli government, this is also the responsibility of EU governments because there are EU citizens among the hostages, because it's a humanitarian crisis, and because any civilized person should be appalled by the idea of a baby being held hostage by terrorists," Sobovitz said.
"They (the hostages) should not be players in a political game. They should not be a way to justify whatever Israel will do or Hamas will do. They need to be released," he added.
Five days after Hamas' assault, the fate of the hostages remains unclear, and locating and reaching them in Gaza is proving difficult. EU leaders have repeatedly called for their safe return.
Israel’s influential far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich has called on the Israeli army to "hit Hamas brutally and not take the matter of the captives into significant consideration," sparking condemnation among many Israelis concerned about abducted family members.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Israeli ambassador to the EU told Euronews that Hamas was using hostages and innocent Palestinian civilians as a "human shield" in Gaza.
Crowds also gathered in Brussels on Wednesday in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have suffered devastating losses in the Israeli counter-offensive since Saturday, with at least 1,000 Palestinians killed.