Israeli families 'frustrated and suffocating' as hostages mark 100 days in Hamas captivity

Israelis have marked the 100th day of Israel's conflict with Hamas with a 100-minute pause in the working day

For the families of those seized by Hamas, Sunday marks a gruelling milestone.

The hostages have been held for 100 days by the militant group – and while some families have had proof of life, others still don’t know their loved ones’ fate.

A hostage release deal agreed between Israel and Hamas in late November ended after just six days, with more than 100 people freed.

There’s been little to give relatives hope of another deal since – and some see Israel’s actions as only increasing the risk of harm to those held captive.

Others are angry at what they see as a failure by the Red Cross to help them.

“The first wave of hostages were released between days 49 and 54. It’s been nearly 100 days now - almost twice as long as they were in there for,” Naama Weinberg, whose cousin Itai Svirsky was kidnapped while visiting his family on Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, told CNN last week.

She said the captives’ families are “frustrated and suffocating,” adding: “There’s been no progress for weeks. Nothing is moving - except for finding out more hostages have died.”

Ms Weinberg, 27 was angered by the killing of a top Hamas commander in Lebanon earlier this month - widely attributed to Israel.

She said some of Israel’s “military action” is “directly endangering the hostages.”

Her cousin Itai, a 38-year-old dual Israeli-German citizen, had been visiting his mother, Orit Svirsky, a committed peace activist, on October 7.

Orit was gunned down in front of him, and it later emerged that her ex-husband Rafi – Itai’s father - was also murdered, alongside his three dogs.

Naama Weinberg shows a photo of her cousin, Itai Svirsky, who has been taken hostage by Hamas. Credit: AP

Ms Weinberg said part of the problem was that the Israeli government has two aims: the destruction of Hamas and the return of the hostages.

“But there can’t be two aims because sometimes these aims clash - like the elimination of al-Arouri,” she said, referring to the drone strike that killed Hamas number two Saleh al-Arouri on January 2.

Although the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) did not directly claim responsibility, al-Arouri’s death was widely attributed to Israel and led to growing fears of escalation in the region.

“The moment after they pressed the button and eliminated Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas said there’s nothing to talk about it - that the channel for negotiations had closed and that the discussion is over,” Ms Weinberg said.

Protests continue

On Thursday, relatives of other hostages carrying loudspeakers gathered near the perimeter fence with Gaza to blast out messages which they hoped would reach their loved ones.

Among them was Shai Wenkert, whose 22-year-old son Omer was kidnapped from the Nova music festival.

In an emotional interview with Israeli radio station 103 FM on Tuesday, Mr Wenkert revealed that he and a convoy of other relatives had already been down to the border area.

He said the action was taken by “tens of families” who were “fed up and cannot wait any longer.”

Pictures of hostages kidnapped during the October 7. Credit: AP

Mr Wenkert said the government’s top priority must be to release the hostages, adding that “military pressure isn’t working.”

“He should do everything that’s possible to imagine,” said Mr Wenkert of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“In all this ground offensive we’re not seeing any more (hostage) releases, we’re only seeing the bodies of soldiers, bodies of hostages and horrific tales of the murdered.

“I don’t want my son back as a body,” he added.

Mr Wenkert had even stronger words for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which he accused of “not operating according to its charter.”

“The aim of the Red Cross is to provide humanitarian aid to both sides,” he said, while claiming the organisation had failed to assist the hostages and their families.

He said the international body had refused to pass on medication that the families had delivered to it for the sick and wounded - among them his son, who suffers from colitis.

“Omer is a strong boy,” he said, but sometimes, “I find myself saying that I’m scared for my son’s life.”

A Red Cross vehicle carrying Israeli hostages drives by at the Gaza Strip crossing into Egypt on November 25, 2023. Credit: AP

In a statement to CNN, an ICRC spokesperson acknowledged the “unimaginable suffering” of the hostage families and said the Red Cross understood their frustration.

“From day one, we have called for the immediate release of all the hostages and for the ICRC to have access to them," the statement said.

"We have continuously requested information on them and their current health condition. We have not stopped doing so and will continue as long as it takes.

“The ICRC has facilitated multiple release operations and we are relieved that more than 100 people were reunited with their loved ones. But it is not enough – we have repeatedly confirmed our readiness to facilitate the release of all hostages.

The spokesperson added that the ICRC had asked the families to keep hold of medications for the hostages, as it does not “have access to the hostages and there are logistics and security reasons that require medical items to be sourced differently.”

Meanwhile, a pro-Israel rally will be held in Trafalgar Square in London on Sunday.

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