How Gaza hostage diplomacy could dictate the course of Israel-Hamas war

Special How Gaza hostage diplomacy could dictate the course of Israel-Hamas war
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Released after 13 days in captivity, US citizens Natalie Shoshana Raanan and Judith Tai Raanan were among roughly 230 people taken hostage by Hamas during the group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. (AFP)
Special How Gaza hostage diplomacy could dictate the course of Israel-Hamas war
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Israelis protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2023, to demand the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Special How Gaza hostage diplomacy could dictate the course of Israel-Hamas war
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A picture taken from Israel’s southern city of Sderot shows smoke rising during Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Oct. 29, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)
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Updated 02 November 2023
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How Gaza hostage diplomacy could dictate the course of Israel-Hamas war

How Gaza hostage diplomacy could dictate the course of Israel-Hamas war
  • Hamas took an estimated 230 hostages, including children and elderly people, during its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel
  • The politics and tactics of hostage-taking is the subject of the latest report by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit

LONDON: One of the defining images that emerged in the aftermath of the attack on Israel on Oct. 7 was a frame taken from a video, widely disseminated on social media, showing an elderly Israeli woman being driven away into captivity on a golf cart.

It was no coincidence that this image was released, nor that it was so widely used by media organizations around the world. Kidnapping is a visceral act, designed precisely to generate emotional responses that can only benefit the agenda of the hostage-takers.

Yaffa Adar, an 85-year-old Israeli grandmother, was taken from her home in Kibbutz Kfar, close to the border with Gaza.

In the photograph she sits wrapped in a blanket, surrounded by armed men yet gazing ahead with an incongruously calm expression.




Yaffa Adar, an 85-year-old Israeli grandmother who was taken from her home in Kibbutz Kfar during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, remains in captivity. (Hatem Ali/AP)

She is, as her granddaughter Adva Adar told Reuters on the day of the attacks, “a strong lady ... she’s sitting trying to show them she’s not afraid and she’s not hurt.”

And then she echoed the plaintive plea of every family that has ever suffered the agony of seeing a loved one snatched from their everyday world and held hostage as a pawn in a political game that is beyond their control.




This image taken from video released by Al Qassam brigades on its Telegram channel, shows Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, center, and Nurit Cooper, 79, being escorted by Hamas as they are released to the Red Cross in an unknown location on Oct. 23, 2023. (Al Qassam Brigades via AP)

“I have a message, I have a hope that they will understand that these people have done nothing wrong,” said Adar, fighting back tears.

“I can’t even start to understand how people think it makes sense to kidnap an 85-year-old lady, to kidnap babies, kidnap kids.”

But of course, as those who are holding Yaffa Adar and an estimated 230 other hostages know all too well, in the cold-blooded logic of those who seek to leverage political advantage by placing governments under extreme emotional pressure, kidnapping vulnerable children and old ladies makes the most perfect, terrible sense.

The politics and tactics of hostage-taking is the subject of the latest report published by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit. The author is James Denselow, a writer on Middle East politics and security issues who has worked for the UK-based foreign policy think-tank Chatham House and international NGOs.

In “The Hostage Dilemma,” Denselow reviews the long and much-practised business of “hostage diplomacy,” which, he writes, has been a weapon in the arsenal of terror groups and rogue governments for decades.

From the recent and controversial release in September of five prisoners each by Iran and the US, following agreement by the American government to unfreeze $6 billion of Iranian assets, to the holding hostage for 444 days of 52 Americans seized at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, “perhaps the most challenging response to hostage diplomacy,” writes Denselow, “is the inconsistent policies of states toward it.”




Pro-Iran Revolution activists held 53 American citizens hostage for 444 days until Jan. 20, 1981. (Getty Images/File)

The truth of this observation can be seen now in the unfolding Gaza crisis, where the raw emotions unleashed by the plight of so many hostages is preventing a unified international response, and even muddying the waters for Israeli military planners.

The awful reality is that, even as it releases a token few hostages here and there, Hamas is seen by its critics as indifferent to the fate of the people it has taken, beyond keeping at least some of them alive long enough for the prospect of their release — or their deaths — to serve its purpose.

Desperately concerned for their loved ones, and tortured daily by thoughts of what they must be going through, many of the families of the hostages have, in effect, become the unwilling allies of their captors.

Ever since the hostages were taken, pressure on the Israeli government at home and from around the world to enter into negotiations with their captors has mounted daily.

The horror the families are dealing with was emphasised on Monday with the news that Shani Louk, a 22-year-old German-Israeli woman who was living in Tel Aviv and was thought to have been kidnapped from the scene of the massacre at the music festival at the start of the attacks on Oct. 7, was in fact dead.




Shani Louk, a 22-year-old German-Israeli kidnapped by Hamas militants, was confirmed dead on Oct. 30, 2023. (Instagram)

The gruesome details of how Louk’s death was confirmed will serve only to pile on more pressure, not only on Israel but also on all the governments now facing pleas from frantic families.

Israeli forensic scientists identified Louk from DNA extracted from a fragment of skull bone, which so far is the only part of her body that has been recovered.

Hamas is thought to be holding several other Germans, among the citizens of some 24 other countries who were snatched on Oct. 7, and who together account for half of the hostages now being held.

In addition to coping with the mounting pressure from its own increasingly angry families, who fear their loved ones will be murdered by Hamas or fall victims to Israeli bombs and bullets in Gaza, the government is now having to deal with a wide range of demands and diplomatic pressure from other nations around the world.


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Whether by accident or design, there are, in fact, more hostages from other countries being held than citizens of Israel, including 54 Thai nationals, 15 Argentinians, 12 Germans, 12 Americans, six French and six Russians, and this serves Hamas well.

And, although on Wednesday some holders of foreign passports were allowed to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, international concern remains high for the citizens of many countries who have found themselves trapped by the conflict in increasingly desperate conditions.

On Monday a UK Cabinet minister said that the 200 Britons trapped in Gaza were, in effect, also hostages, trapped by Hamas’ refusal to allow them to leave, despite direct pleas by the US and other countries.

Their plight was thrown into sharp focus when Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf disclosed that his own parents, who had been visiting Gaza, had run out of drinking water.

 

 

A seemingly endless flow of similar stories is piling pressure onto the Israeli government from countries that defend Israel’s right to defend itself, but not at the cost of the innocent lives of their own citizens who, through no fault of their own, find themselves pawns in the Hamas game plan.

“The mass hostage-taking of Israelis, many of whom were children or the elderly, as well as high numbers of dual nationals, is a crucial component of the deadly equation of the crisis currently playing out between Israel and Hamas,” Denselow told Arab News.

“The taking of hostages was seemingly a key objective — not an opportunistic act — of the attack itself.”

And, as Hamas will surely have intended, “some of the families of hostages taken have already proven to be some of the most powerful advocates of diplomacy and military de-escalation to see their relatives returned safely.”

Cracks are appearing in Israeli society, ramping up the level of political jeopardy faced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Organizing via WhatsApp and the hashtag “Bring them home now,” on Saturday the Hostages and Missing Families Forum gathered at Israel’s Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, carrying photographs of the missing and demanding to know what the government planned to do to save their lives.




Israelis protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2023, to demand the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The previous week Hamas had announced that 50 hostages had already died under Israeli bombardment in Gaza. Now Friday night’s incursions into Gaza by Israeli forces had only ratcheted up the anxiety of relatives, stoking fears that Israel’s much-advertised bombing of 150 underground targets had been carried out with little or no concern for the hostages possibly being held in Hamas tunnels.

“Why this offensive? There is no rush. Hamas wasn’t going anywhere,” one man at the protest told the media as he stood holding a picture of his missing 19-year-old nephew, and a poster that read: “Don’t abandon us twice.”

The mood among the protesters was that the government had already failed the hostages once for having allowed the unprecedented attack of Oct. 7 to take place virtually unchallenged. Now, many believe, morally, the government has only one option — to release all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons in exchange for the hostages.

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The cry, “All the prisoners for all the hostages,” that is echoing ominously in Israel’s corridors of power will no doubt be music to the ears of the Hamas leadership.

For now, Hamas appears to be in complete control of the increasingly tense standoff between the Israeli government, its own people, and the under-pressure governments of many of its global allies, and only small adjustments to the model are required by Hamas to maintain the pressure on Netanyahu and his cabinet.

On Oct. 18 a Hamas spokesman announced the group was willing to release women and children.




This photo provided by Ichilov hospital shows Yocheved Lifshitz, one of the two women released from Hamas captivity late Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, being wheeled in a wheelchair down the hall at the hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Jenny Yerushalmy/Ichilov hospital via AP)

Two days later, two American hostages, Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie, were suddenly released, with US President Joe Biden publicly thanking “the government of Qatar and the government of Israel for their partnership in this work.”

Three days after that, two more elderly Israeli hostages were released. One, 85-year-old grandmother Yocheved Lifshitz, was a peace activist who, according to her grandson, had worked for years helping Palestinians in Gaza to receive medical treatment.

In footage of the women’s release, filmed and released by the media-savvy Hamas, Lifshitz was seen shaking hands with one of her armed captors and wishing him “Shalom” — peace.

On Monday Hamas released a video featuring three kidnapped Israeli women, one of whom accused Netanyahu of having failed to protect Israel on Oct. 7, and then condemned Israel’s military incursions into Gaza.

 

 

“We are innocent citizens,” she told her prime minister. “You want to kill us all. You want to kill us all using the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).”

Each such episode bolsters hope for those who remain in captivity, appears to show Hamas in a humanitarian light, and makes any large-scale military incursion into Gaza by Israeli forces appear reckless.

What does Hamas want? Last week a senior official was quoted on NBC News saying that it would be willing to release all civilian hostages “in one hour” if Israel halted all attacks on the Gaza Strip and released all Palestinians detained by Israel.

This is, of course, exactly what many of Israel’s own citizens are now calling for.




Israeli armored personnel carriers and tanks move towards the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel on   Nov.1, 2023. (AP)

But Denselow says the situation in Gaza — and the fate of the hostages held there — remains on a knife edge.

“Reports suggest that the release of a handful of hostages may have played a role in delaying a ground offensive,” he said.

“Yet history shows that while in more stable conflicts hostage negotiation and return can occur, in more fast-moving and intensive conflicts hostages are often tragically unable to escape the wider maelstrom of violence.

“If, by some diplomatic miracle, hostages are safely released, there is still the question of what happens next, and whether violence could indeed escalate.”

 


Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination
Updated 4 sec ago
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Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination
  • ‘The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process’

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, on Thursday continued its hearing from dozens of states and three international organizations who question the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Representatives from countries including China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya were expected to deliver their positions during the third day of the hearing at the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

Speakers from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, with the Kingdom’s envoy to the Netherlands Ziad Al-Atiyah stating Israel’s continued actions were legally indefensible.

Ma Xinmin, a foreign ministry legal adviser, said Beijing “has consistently supported the just cause of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate right”.

“In pursuit of the right to self-determination”, he mentioned, the Palestinian people’s use of force to “resist foreign oppression” and complete the establishment of an independent state is an “inalienable right”.

The Iranian representative said the Israeli occupation force continuously violated Palestinians right to self-determination.

“The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process which involved the forcible displacement of native Palestinian people to create a majority Jewish colony in line with the Zionist movement,” Raza Najafi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs said.

Najafi listed a series ongoing violation by the Israeli occupying regime: prolonged occupation; alterationof the demographic composition in the occupied territories; alterion of the character and the status of the Holy City; discriminatory measures; andviolations of the rights of Palestinian people to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.


Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies
Updated 22 min 27 sec ago
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Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

DUBAI: A missile attack Thursday targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, two maritime agencies said, the latest in a flurry of strikes disrupting global shipping.

“A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said, adding that “coalition forces are responding.”

Security firm Ambrey also reported a fire aboard a Palau-flagged, British-owned general cargo ship following two missile strikes southeast of Yemen’s Aden.

The ship “appeared to be headed from Map Ta Phut, Thailand, and headed in the direction of the Red Sea,” Ambrey said.

“Merchant shipping is advised to stay clear of the vessel and proceed with caution,” it added.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it follows a series of strikes on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis say the attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.

The strikes have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
Updated 22 February 2024
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Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
  • Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship, was damaged in Sunday’s Houthi missile strike

DUBAI: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels remains afloat and could be towed to Djibouti this week, its operator said on Thursday.
Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in Sunday’s missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed on Monday the attack on the ship, saying it was “at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden” after receiving “extensive damage.”
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
“She will be towed to Djibouti but the tugboat has not yet arrived,” Khoury said. “It should be there in two to three days.”
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury said there was “no risk for now but always a possibility.”
Ship-tracking site TankerTrackers.com confirmed that the Rubymar had not sunk but warned that the vessel was leaking fuel oil.
The attack on the Rubymar has inflicted the most significant damage yet to a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority said the ship’s last port of call was the United Arab Emirates and it was destined for Belarus.
Its 24 crew members included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos, the authority said in a statement on Monday.
“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tons) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1,” the authority said on X, formerly Twitter, describing it as “very dangerous.”
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
Updated 2 min 7 sec ago
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One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
  • Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics
  • Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Three Palestinian gunmen killed one person and wounded eight, among them a young pregnant woman, in a “terror attack” Thursday when they sprayed automatic weapons fire at vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israeli police said.
The shooters were “neutralized,” police said, and an AFP photographer later saw their bodies at the scene of the attack on a highway east of Jerusalem, where five cars were riddled with bullets.
“The three terrorists... got out of their vehicle and started shooting automatic weapons at vehicles that were in a traffic jam on the road toward Jerusalem,” police said in a statement about the attack near the Maale Adumim settlement.
“Two terrorists were neutralized on the spot,” police said. “In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralized.”

The gunmen were identified as Mohammed Zawahrah, 26, his brother Kathim Zawahrah, 31, and Ahmed Al-Wahsh, also 31, by Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet.
Among those wounded was a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was in critical condition, said the emergency response service Magen David Adom and a spokesperson for the Shaare Tzedek Hospital.
Violence was already on the rise across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, but has escalated since then to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with hundreds killed in recent months.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the site of Thursday’s attack where he told journalists: “The enemies... want to hurt us. They hate us.”
He argued that “we need to distribute more weapons” and that “our right to life is superior to the freedom of movement” of residents governed by the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas.
“There should be more restrictions and we should put barriers around villages and limit the freedom of movement” of people from the West Bank, Ben Gvir added.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
“Our enemies must know that any harm done to us would result in more construction, more development and even more control over the entire country,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
The attack came after two people were shot dead last Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.
The West Bank has seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis and near-daily raids by the Israeli military that often turn deadly.
Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war broke out, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.
Israel captured the West Bank — including east Jerusalem, which it later annexed — in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, in settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community.
The West Bank’s Palestinian population is about 2.9 million.
The Palestinians claim the territory as the heartland of a future independent state, a goal being discussed by the international community as the Gaza war rages into a fifth month.
Israel’s parliament Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
Updated 22 February 2024
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Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
  • Turkiye has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called on the international community to take a more active role toward an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and a two-state solution to the conflict during talks at the G20 meeting in Brazil, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Turkiye, which has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire.
Unlike its Western allies and some Gulf nations, NATO member Turkiye does not view Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which runs Gaza and on Oct. 7 carried out an attack inside Israel that prompted the Israeli campaign, as a terrorist organization.
Fidan told a G20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday that the “savagery” in Gaza must be stopped, and discussed steps to achieve an urgent ceasefire and get more aid into the enclave during talks with counterparts from the United States, Germany, and Egypt, the source said.
“Steps that can be taken to achieve a full ceasefire as soon as possible were discussed,” during talks between Fidan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the source said, adding Fidan also discussed “concrete steps” to stop the fighting with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
“The fact that a decision on a ceasefire did not come out of the UN Security Council once again, has shown that reform is a must,” Fidan told a session at the G20 meeting, according to one of his aides, referring to a third US veto on a ceasefire call at the 15-member body.
Ankara says the UN Security Council must be reformed to be more inclusive and representative of the world.
“The stance shown by Brazilian President Lula (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) is admirable,” the aide cited Fidan as saying, in reference to comments by Lula in which he likened the war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two and which caused a diplomatic spat.