Families call on EU to help free Gaza hostages as Israel sets Rafah ultimatum

Israeli hostages' families demonstrate near the International Crime Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.
Israeli hostages' families demonstrate near the International Crime Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Copyright Martin Meissner/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Martin Meissner/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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The relatives of Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza by Hamas fear time is running out to ensure their release, after talks to broker a ceasefire and hostage deal stalled.


Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, a delegation of Israeli hostages' families pleaded with their own government, the European Union and the broader international community not to give up on their loved ones and to continue to wield their diplomatic influence to secure their liberation.

It came a day after Israel said it would launch its ground offensive in Rafah unless Hamas released all remaining hostages by the start of Ramadan on March 10.

"Our government and all the world didn't do enough because they are still there," Nofar, whose brother Yagev Buchshtav, 35, has been held captive in Gaza since he was abducted from his home on October 7, said.

"I trust my government. I think they try to do it, they try to release them, but it is not enough and they should do more. They should make a new deal," she added.

"They don't have time."

Israel's ultimatum for the release of hostages has injected a renewed sense of urgency into the families' campaign.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet, said Israeli forces would proceed with their planned ground offensive in Rafah – the southern Gazan town where more than a million Palestinians are fleeing from war – unless Hamas released all remaining hostages by March 10.

The deadline coincides with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Haim Regev, Israel's Ambassador to the EU, told reporters on Tuesday that "all the options are on the table," adding that Israel is willing to agree to a humanitarian pause if all the hostages are released without conditions.

"We can stop at any moment, they just need to release those hostages," Regev said. "If we see tomorrow morning that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are open to release hostages, we pause."

But Western partners have urged Israel not to proceed with the Rafah offensive, with 26 of 27 the bloc's members warning the move would "worsen an already catastrophic" situation in the besieged Gaza strip, where the war between Israel and Hamas has now been raging for more than four months.

In a move that ups the pressure on Israel to show restraint, the US has tabled a UN Security Council resolution calling for a "temporary ceasefire" and dissuading Israel from advancing into Rafah.

It is the first time the US has backed a ceasefire in Gaza, in a sign even the staunchest supporters of Israel are increasingly wary of the toll of its war on the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza.

The US draft is a counter-proposal to an Algerian-pitched resolution calling for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire," which Washington vetoed for fears it would undermine continued negotiations for the release of hostages.

The US, along with Egypt, Israel and Qatar, has been spearheading talks to broker a pause in hostilities in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages, but discussions are at an impasse. The only previous truce in fighting, a six-day pause which started on 24 November last year, saw 105 hostages released.

Hostages responsibility of 'the whole world'

The remaining hostages' relatives say their loved ones are not political pawns, but rather regular citizens taken from the comfort of their homes on a regular Saturday morning in October.

Some 130 of the 253 people kidnapped during Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7 are unaccounted for. Israel estimates around a quarter of those 130 have been killed.

Nofar's brother Yagev Buchshtav was taken hostage with his wife Rimon Kirsht Buchshtav when Hamas militants infiltrated their kibbutz. Rimon was held with her husband until she was released as part of a hostage deal during the brief pause in hostilities last November


Other families say they have had no contact with their loved ones since they were taken and are unaware of whether they are still alive. They include the parents of Oz Daniel, 19, a talented guitarists whose twin sister has been waiting for him at home for 136 days.

"The moment Hamas releases the hostages, there will be less casualties on both sides," Oz's father said.

Among the 130 abductees unaccounted for are 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his four-year-old brother Ariel Bibas, and their mother Shiri Bibas. Hamas claims they are among those killed in Gaza.

On Monday, the IDF released a video they say shows Shiri Bibas and her two young children being summoned by Hamas gunmen into Khan Younis hours after their abduction, in the first piece of evidence that they were taken into Gaza.

Israel's hostage coordinator Gal Hirsch claims most hostages are being held in Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians are also sheltering from war.


Israel claims Hamas is continuing to use both hostages and Gaza's civilian population as a human shield.

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