Red Cross chief 'cares deeply' about Israeli captives in Gaza, pressuring Hamas
Kobi Gideon / GPO
The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross said he "cares deeply" about the Israeli captives being held to ransom by Hamas in Gaza, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Thursday.
Earlier in the week it was reported that the chief of the international NGO, Peter Maurer, raised the issue of the three captive civilians and bodies of two fallen soldiers when he met Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, in the coastal enclave on Tuesday.
"I care deeply for the for missing Israeli nationals," Maurer said, noting that the Red Cross also works on behalf of Palestinians detained by Israel. "We are doing all we can to relentlessly push Hamas to account for them, treat them as provided under international law and spare their families the unbearable uncertainty."
Asked later if he would urge international human rights organizations to mount sustained campaigns to promote freeing the Israelis, Maurer recommended "that one good element to get empathy from others is to show empathy to others."
He also reminded the audience at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem that the five Hamas captives -- who he at one point erroneously referred to as "five soldiers" -- are among millions of missing people around the world.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Maurer that he hopes his organization can help bring about the return of the Israelis.
“I am convinced that you can, both by returning the bodies of our soldiers but also by the return of those helpless and innocent civilians held by Hamas in violation of all the international norms and all the values on which the Red Cross was established,” Netanyahu told Maurer, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's office.
“I appreciate all your help and assistance in this humanitarian effort against the cruelty of Hamas,” Netanyahu added.
Hamas has strongly hinted it is holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, as well as two living Israelis: Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayeed. A third, Jumaa Abu Ghanima, was seen crossing into the Strip in July 2016 but there has been no information on his whereabouts since.
In July Al-Sayeed's father, Sha'aban, told i24NEWS that the international community must pressure Hamas into releasing his son unilaterally, and said Israel should not release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for them.
Last month the Red Cross raised the issue of the captives in a statement, saying that “The right to know the fate of missing relatives is a fundamental principle of humanitarian law.”
Maurer's visit comes only weeks after Lior Lotan, the lead Israeli negotiator charged with securing the release of the men resigned from his job, and the Lea Goldin, mother of Hadar, claimed in an interview with i24NEWS that his departure signaled that he did not have the Prime Minister's backing.
The Red Cross chief also met with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the region, which a spokesman said was aimed toward getting a sense of the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza.
Maurer said conditions in Gaza were worsening by the day, with the two million residents getting only three or four hours of mains electricity a day, also noting that the power shortage had led to a water and sewage crisis, which in turn is having serious effects on the health system.
"While we can always argue on who did take what decision for what reason, the humanitarian consequences for the people of Gaza are dire and are really unacceptable," he said.
He said a "crisis of hope" in Gaza, and among Palestinians generally, was "the most lasting impression that I take away" from the trip.
(Staff with AFP)
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