As the process for releasing another 12 Israeli hostages held by Hamas continued Wednesday, the Red Cross acted as an intermediary, as it has for the past six days, by picking up the group from masked gunmen and driving them to Egypt.
But Israel is insisting that under its agreement with Hamas, the humanitarian organization has a responsibility to check on the hostages remaining in Gaza, even though a spokesperson for the International Red Cross told CBC News that they don’t have the greenlight to do that.
“The Red Cross should demand, and demand and demand,” said a senior Israeli official in a briefing with foreign media on Wednesday afternoon.
Israel estimates there are more than 150 hostages remaining in Gaza, most of whom are men. They aren’t being considered for release under agreements which include women and children being released by Hamas in exchange for Palestinians in Israeli prisons. As part of Wednesday’s exchange, Israel is releasing 30 Palestinian prisoners.
In a press conference on Nov. 22, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the exchange deal with Hamas would give the Red Cross access to visit and check on the welfare of all of the hostages.
But that hasn’t happened, and the Red Cross says the necessary agreements and measures aren’t in place.
Red Cross needs both parties to give access: official
In an interview with CBC News, Hisham Mhanna, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, said the organization wasn’t involved in any of the negotiations between Israel and Hamas and must remain a neutral intermediary between the warring parties.
“We remain ready to start [checking on the welfare of hostages] … once both parties agree on allowing us to perform our duties,” Mhanna said in a phone interview from southern Gaza.
He said the Red Cross has been calling for access to the hostages since Oct. 7, when Hamas and other militants ravaged Israel, killing 1,200 and taking around 240 people hostage.
Mhanna said they have also been requesting to resume their visits to Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons which have been blocked by the Israeli government since Oct. 7.
“The hostages held in Gaza, and the Palestinians held in Israeli detention, are vulnerable,” he said.
“Some of them, if not all of them, may need medical health care and we urge all parties to fulfil their legal obligations.”
Hostages require medical attention
When 84 -year-old Elma Avraham was freed along with 16 other Israeli hostages on Sunday night, she was in serious condition and had to be airlifted to hospital by helicopter.
While medical officials say the majority of the hostages who have been released so far have been in stable condition, several of those still trapped in Gaza are elderly or were severely wounded in the Oct. 7 attack.
Hersh Polin-Goldberg, 23, barely survived the massacre at the Nova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im, where more than 360 people were killed by gunmen who attacked revellers, and shot into their cars as they tried to flee.
His mother, Rachel Goldberg, said her son’s lower left arm was blown off in the attack — an injury which was clearly visible on cell phone video which later surfaced of her son being forced into the back of a pickup truck.
The last time a signal was picked up from his phone was 10:25 a.m. Oct. 7, she said.
Family of Israeli hostage ‘grateful’ for Red Cross
Goldberg has had no news about her only son ever since, and wants the Red Cross to take a stronger position when it comes to accessing the hostages.
“They have done a wonderful job being the uber service for the hostages who are released and we are grateful they are playing a role,” she said.
“But we are wishing there was some way of saying for each Gazan civilian, we would like to see one of the 240 hostages.”
Goldberg, who is an American citizen, has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken about her son’s case. In the first few weeks after the attack, she said her husband would call the Red Cross in Geneva and Tel Aviv every day.
She said seeing the other hostages released and reunited with their families has given their own a sliver of hope. But she isn’t optimistic their son will be released in the near future, given that the agreement is focused on women and children.
“We have to continue praying and hoping. Turning over every stone and throwing darts in every direction.”
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