Families of Gaza hostages desperately seek proof of life

“We share the frustration. We understand the pain,” said Jason Straziuso, a spokesperson for the Red Cross. “We are not bulletproof and it is not possible for us to enter a conflict zone in hostile territory without permission – to approach a group of people, most likely with firearms that they will use, and demand that they let us in. . This is not possible.”

The Red Cross has about 130 employees in Gaza, he explained, giving it some capacity to provide humanitarian aid and visit sites of war destruction. But even with this access, meeting the hostages requires an agreement with Hamas.

Mr. Straziuso said Red Cross officials were talking with Hamas, Israel, the United States and other countries about the condition of the hostages.

But these discussions were shrouded in secrecy.

In a statement released Monday, the Red Cross said the group “insisted that our teams be allowed to visit the hostages to check on their well-being,” but added that “the ICRC is not involved in negotiations leading to the release of the hostages. As a neutral humanitarian intermediary, we remain ready to facilitate any future releases agreed by the parties to the conflict.

Separate discussions on the possible release of some hostages are being conducted through intermediaries, with Israel and the United States communicating with Hamas only through messages exchanged by negotiators in Egypt and Qatar.

A Hamas leader said in October that not all Israeli hostages taken to Gaza were being held by the group, a claim that most likely complicates negotiations for their release. Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’ political bureau in Lebanon, said other groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a separate organization allied with Hamas, were also holding some of the hostages.

In late October, Israeli forces rescued one hostage and four others were freed by Hamas about a week earlier. But there has been no further progress.

Countries at war have prevented the Red Cross from visiting hostages or prisoners of war in previous conflicts. In 2022, eight months after the start of the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Red Cross still had little access to prisoners held by both sides. In a statement at the time, the group wrote that “blaming the ICRC for being denied full and immediate access does not help prisoners of war or their families.”

But the fact that there is no definitive guide to wartime hostages, nor a specific time to report whether they are dead or alive, leaves family members with little to cling to. as the days slowly pass.

Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail Idan’s great-aunt, told NBC News how 3-year-old Abigail saw Hamas fighters shoot and kill her mother on October 7 and flee with her father and two brothers and sisters.

“Abigail was in her father’s arms,” Ms. Naftali said on “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt. “And as they were running, a terrorist shot and killed him, and he ran into Abigail.”

She added: “We learned that Abigail had crawled out of her father’s body and, full of his blood, went to a neighbor’s house and they took her in. »

Hamas then seized the neighbor, her three children and Abigail, Ms. Naftali said.

Rachel Goldberg, who is married to Mr. Polin, and other family members said they did not know when — or if — they would find out anything definitive about their loved ones. Ms. Goldberg detailed the grief of a mother who doesn’t know if her son is alive “or if you died yesterday, or if you died five minutes ago.”

(In 2004, before moving to Israel, Hersch, the son of Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, attended the same preschool as my children in Richmond, Virginia.)

In Israel, where hostages’ faces are plastered everywhere on posters proclaiming that they are “KIDNED”, activists have launched an aggressive campaign to demand faster action from the Red Cross.

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