As Israel resumes military operation in Gaza, families of hostages ramp up pressure for their release
Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague visits Israel for the first time. Under the Rome Statute, the court has jurisdiction over the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for Oct. 7 atrocities
Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
For the first time since their release from Gaza, Israeli hostages publicly shared their horrifying experiences in captivity, speaking at a mass rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, during which they urged the government not to abandon those still being held by Palestinian terror groups, even as the Israeli military said over the weekend that it was gearing up for the next stage of its war in Gaza.
Speaking before tens of thousands of people at the site now known as ‘Hostages Plaza,’ more than half a dozen of the former captives emphasized the message that “time is running out,” to save some 137 people, including 20 women and two children.
In a concurrent press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed home those who were freed, recalling each person by name, and said the successful return of some 110 people, including 86 Israelis, was mainly due to Israel’s military pressure on Hamas.
“We conducted tough negotiations under fire,” said Netanyahu, who on Saturday instructed the Israeli negotiating team led by Mossad Director David Barnea to return from Doha, Qatar, after mediated talks with Hamas representatives reached an impasse.
“We applied pressure around the world – the Mossad, the negotiating team, the Israel Security Agency and the IDF,” the prime minister said in his speech. “I was in continuous and daily contact with the White House. The efforts were productive; we doubled the number of those who were released but the mission has yet to be completed.”
Netanyahu said the achievements were “thanks to a combination of the massive military pressure by our heroic soldiers and the relentless diplomatic effort I led along with my colleagues.”
“In order to complete the sacred mission of returning all of our hostages, in order to eliminate Hamas, and in order to ensure that Gaza does not go back to constitute a threat to Israel… we are continuing to fight with full force,” he emphasized.
Wrapping up his third trip to the Middle East since Oct. 7, Sec. of State Tony Blinken blamed Hamas for the breakdown of negotiations and for violating the ceasefire.
“It came to an end because of Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, AP reported. “Hamas reneged on commitments it made. In fact, even before the pause came to an end, it committed an atrocious terrorist attack in Jerusalem, killing three people, wounding others, including Americans.”
“It began firing rockets before the pause had ended and, as I said, it reneged on commitments it made in terms of releasing certain hostages. We remain intensely focused on getting everyone home, getting hostages back,” Blinken said, adding that the U.S. would continue to push for extensions to release hostages and boost the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
He also warned Israel that it must adhere to international laws of war as it prosecutes its campaign to eradicate Hamas, the AP report said.
On Sunday, the chief of the general staff of the IDF, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevy, said that even as the army continued to secure its control of northern Gaza, it had already “started the same process in the southern Gaza Strip.”
“It will be with no less strength, it will be with no less results, and Hamas commanders will meet the IDF everywhere in a very, very strong way,” he said in a meeting with troops stationed in southern Israel.
As rocket fire by Palestinian terror groups in Gaza resumed over the weekend, reaching areas in and around Tel Aviv, the army said on Sunday that some 800 tunnel shafts had been located in northern Gaza and around 500 of them destroyed with a variety of methods since the beginning of the war.
The army said that many of the tunnel shafts were located in residential areas near or inside civilian buildings and structures, such as schools, kindergartens, mosques and playgrounds. In addition, the army said that IDF soldiers had located large quantities of weapons hidden inside some of the tunnels.
On Monday, the army reported that military jets had hit approximately 200 Hamas targets overnight, including observation posts belonging to Hamas’ naval forces in the Gaza harbor. The army also said that it had notified the families of three Israeli soldiers killed in battle on Sunday.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday that the resumption of fighting on Friday had led to the deaths of at least 316 people, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Additionally, the agency also reported that aid trucks carrying humanitarian supplies had entered the Strip from Egypt on Sunday – the Palestine Red Crescent confirmed that roughly 100 aid trucks had crossed through Rafah – and that some 566 foreign nationals and dual citizens, as well as 13 injured people and their 11 companions had been able to leave Gaza.
With the IDF’s resumption of its operations in Gaza, tensions once again increased on Israel’s northern border. On Sunday, the army said that anti-tank missiles were fired toward an IDF vehicle and that several soldiers were lightly injured. IDF fighter jets responded by striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanese and Syrian territory.
In the south on Sunday, the U.S. military reported that ballistic missiles fired by Houthi rebels, an Iranian-backed terror group in Yemen, had struck three commercial ships in international waters in the southern Red Sea as one of its warships shot down three drones.
“These three vessels are connected to 14 separate nations,” U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. “These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security. They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world.”
“We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran,” the statement continued. “The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners.”
Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor in The Hague visited Israel over the weekend — the first time such a trip has been made. While Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, it allowed prosecutor Karim Khan to visit the country at the request of the families who survived Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre and the relatives of the hostages still being held in Gaza.
“We hosted him for the whole day on Friday,” attorney Yuval Sasson, a former deputy to the state attorney of Israel, who is currently leading the Forum’s international legal effort, told Jewish Insider in an interview.
“We traveled with him to the burnt-out and diminished communities in Kibbutz Be’eri and Kibbutz Kfar Aza and we went to the Nova festival site,” Sasson said, describing how the prosecutor was accompanied to the sites by survivors of the Oct. 7 atrocities.
Kahn also met with families of the hostages – those released and still being held – and with the head medical staff at Schneider Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv, where he heard about the poor conditions of the children who were returned from Hamas captivity, Sasson said.
“It was very apparent that he was deeply moved and touched by what he saw, heard and felt,” said Sasson.
However, he continued, “he didn’t come just to show empathy, he came as chief prosecutor to examine the question of whether to open an investigation against the Hamas perpetrators, their aiders and abettors.”
While Sasson would not speculate as to whether the ICC will investigate Hamas’ war crimes, he did point out that the Palestinian Authority – a self-declared state that is signatory to the Rome Statute, which gives the ICC its mandate – “has accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
“They [the Palestinian Authority] said there is jurisdiction over us, so if there is jurisdiction over them and they have accepted it, then there is no question that the ICC applies to them,” he explained. “It also means [the ICC jurisdiction] applies to Palestinian citizens whether they live in Ramallah, Khan Younis [in Gaza] or elsewhere.”
While there is hope that the ICC will decide to prosecute members of Hamas, including its leaders who live in Qatar and Turkey, Sasson said he also hoped that Kahn’s visit and ICC intervention might be helpful in the short term to secure the release of those still held hostage in Gaza.