‘Bring them back’: freed Israeli hostages plead with Netanyahu for deal

Moments after Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected the terms of a ceasefire in Gaza proposed by Hamas, five Israeli hostages who were freed in November pleaded with him to push for a deal.

“Everything is in your hands,” a tearful Adina Moshe, 72, said in a direct appeal to the Israeli prime minister at an emotional press conference in Tel Aviv. She said she feared the remaining hostages and their families would pay the price for Netanyahu’s pursuit of “absolute victory” over the militant group.

She said: “I’m very afraid and very concerned that if you continue with this line of destroying Hamas, there won’t be any hostages left to release.”

Moshe was comforted by Sharon Aloni Cunio, 34, Nili Margalit, 41, Aviva Siegel, 62, and Sahar Calderon, 16, who were abducted by Hamas on 7 October and released in November as part of a temporary ceasefire deal.

The women came together as Netanyahu dismissed Hamas’s proposal – which includes the call for a 135-day ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages – as “delusional”.

In a blow to the hopes of the families of the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, Netanyahu said the hostages would only be released by continued military pressure on Hamas.

His televised address came after Israel said on Tuesday that it had informed the families of 31 of the remaining 136 hostages that their relatives were dead.

Cunio, who was kidnapped along with her three-year-old twin daughters, Emma and Yuli, before being released on 27 November, said the fate of the remaining hostages, including her husband, David, was in Netanyahu’s hands.

Addressing the prime minister, she said: “We’ve reached the awful moment when you must decide who lives and who dies … 136 hostages now wait in tunnels, without oxygen, without food, without water and without hope, waiting for you to save them. The price is heavy, unbearable, but the price of negligence will become a stain for generations.”

Calderon, who was freed with her brother, Erez, 12, said she was desperate for the return of her father, Ofer, who remains in captivity.

“I am alive and breathing, but my soul has been murdered,” she said as she fought back tears. “I am grateful to the government for bringing me back, but what about my father who is abandoned anew every day, uncertain if he will live or die? I just want his warm embrace. Bring him back, do not make me lose faith in our country a second time.”

Margalit, who was abducted from the Nir Oz kibbutz, added: “If the hostages do not return to their homes, every mother and father will know that they are next in line and that they live in a country that is not committed to their safety.”

Those listening to the women speak at the headquarters of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday included people with loved ones held hostage in Gaza.

Many appeared to be moved by the women’s accounts, including Tomer Keshet who listened as he clutched posters of his cousin, Yarden Bibas, 34, his wife, Shiri, 32, and their two boys, Ariel, four, and 10-month-old Kfir, who were kidnapped from the Nir Oz kibbutz.

Keshet said the past four months had been “excruciating” for the family as they contended with claims from Hamas that Shiri and the boys had been killed in an Israeli bombing.

Keshet, 33, said: “This is a decisive moment. I want to stress the urgency of the situation. We urge the world’s leaders to help us make sure that the deal goes through. The price on our society is unbearable. The price of not getting them back while we still can is unbearable.”

He said he hoped that there was still a chance to “get them back alive”, adding: “So we need the world to help us make sure that a deal happens.”

Shay Benjamin, 25, echoed his calls. Her father, Ron Benjamin, 53, was abducted near the Be’eri kibbutz while out on a bike ride. His car was later found abandoned nearby with bullet holes and blood stains.

She said: “The government needs to get a deal and to bring them back because they’re alive now and we can’t abandon them again. They need to be home, safe and alive as soon as possible,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a price that is too high. The price is high, I know that. But the price of abandoning those people again is much higher.”

Gil Dickmann, 31, whose cousin, Carmel Gat, 39, was abducted from the Be’eri kibbutz, said he feared that more hostages would die but that he was still hopeful of a deal.

He said: “I really want to believe it’s a beginning or the resuming of a negotiation that would eventually lead to a deal. That’s what we want to see, as we know that there is no other way to get the hostages back.”

The Guardian