Israel airstrikes hit neighbourhoods in Gaza/AFP
Relatives of Israelis abducted by Hamas last month assembled outside the headquarters of the American Red Cross in DC on Sunday to urge the international community to maintain pressure and demand the release of their family members. Rain or shine, every Sunday, relatives hold photos and invoke the names of their captured loved ones. "Bring them home now" is the chant for a young boy, a husband and wife, and even a nine-month-old infant among the missing.
As the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is back on track, the militants freed 17 more hostages. Relatives back in DC hoped that the truce would be extended, and maybe their loved ones would be home. As desperate families plead for help, some drew a parallel between the 26/11 terror attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Mumbai fifteen years ago and Hamas in Israel earlier last month, emphasizing that all acts of terrorism are unjustifiable and need to stop.
Boaz Atzili spoke of his cousin Aviv Atzilli, a 44-year-old Israeli, who was presumably taken hostage along with his wife Liat Atzilli from their hometown of Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. Boaz told ANI that his missing cousin's phone was geolocated to Gaza and shared that all that he knows is that Atzili's house was burned down. "Red Cross has been trying to reach them (hostages), but contrary to international law and human dignity, Hamas is not allowing them to reach the hostages....so even if they (Hamas) doesn't release them, at least Red Cross should be allowed to check on them and their needs," Atzilli said.
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Nearly two months after Hamas militants dragged hostages into Gaza during a bloody cross-border attack on Israel that also killed 1,200 people, 58 have been set free, and Boaz is hopeful that in the days ahead, there could be some good news for his missing loved ones and many others still missing. "I just want to emphasize that this is not about Israel or Palestine. This is a humanitarian issue. There are people there from many countries. There are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians even some from India's neighbours Nepal and Thailand. They should all come back home," he added asserted.
Referring to the Mumbai attacks, Atzilli said, "Whether it's Lashkar-e-Taiba or Hamas these attacks on civilians should not happen and we should all be united against any kind of act of terror." Standing next to Boaz is a young American, Sapir Yarden of Israeli heritage. She holds the picture of baby Kfir, who is just ten months old and was taken hostage along with his parents Yarden and Shiri, and sibling Ariel by Hamas terrorists from Kibbutz Nir Oz.
Yarden draws a close parallel between Children held hostage in Gaza to "Baby Moshe" during the 26/11 terror attacks. "The situation with Moshe 15 years ago, that he was left orphaned, is being repeated again today with the civilian population in Israel, where many families were torn apart," said Sapir who held a flier with Baby Kfir picture.
"Children have been separated from their mothers or from their siblings. We are waiting for the safe release of all civilians," Harden said. Hamas militants abducted about 240 people and killed 1,400 during the October attack, according to Israeli authorities. The hostages include soldiers, civilians, and 33 children. Yael Meroz, one of the Israeli-Americans, stood in front of the gathered crowd urging the Red Cross and world leaders to exert pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.
"We expect Prime Minister Modi who is a great ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel as a world leader of one of the most populous sovereign countries in the world, to use his means and throw his weight on the side of releasing the hostages," she said while speaking to ANI. "I believe that India as a sovereign nation, and as a democracy has a role to play on the world stage of creating pressure on Hamas, creating an ally with Israel and with Egypt and with Qatar and all the other entities that are involved in their release of the hostages to act immediately for their release," she added. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, visibly teary, and some stoic, the crowds concluded their Sunday meet by ringing bells and prayers for missing loved ones.
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