JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military has sought to reassure the public that it can achieve both goals of its war on Hamas simultaneously — ousting Gaza’s armed rulers and rescuing some 230 hostages kidnapped by Israel.
But as the military intensifies air strikes and ground incursions into the besieged enclave, laying waste to entire neighborhoods in preparation for a wider invasion, the hostages’ distressed families are increasingly concerned that these goals will clash with devastating consequences.
It seems that eliminating Hamas requires a ground operation of unprecedented intensity and fraught with the risk of harming the Israeli hostages. Rescuing the hostages trapped inside Gaza appears to require dealing with Hamas, the group that forever shocked the country when it sent fighters into southern Israel to brutally murder them. More than 1,400 people and dozens were detained on October 7Which sparked this latest war between the sworn enemies. More than 7,700 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli attack, according to the report Ministry of Health in Gaza, controlled by Hamas.
The Israeli government has not explained what a rescue mission might look like. In a televised speech late Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the suffering of the hostages’ families and promised that their release was an “integral” part of Israel’s war effort, on par with its goal of destroying Hamas.
Hamas political leaders are conducting negotiations with mediators Egypt and Qatar to secure the freedom of at least some of the besieged Israeli civilians. Four hostages They have been released Until now.
Concern over Hamas hostages reached a peak on Saturday, as Israel intensified its air campaign and sent troops into Gaza with heavy firepower. Crowds protested outside the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, demanding that Netanyahu and other officials address the fate of their loved ones.
It worked. Netanyahu met with the families on Saturday and pledged to “exercise and exhaust all possibilities to bring them home.” Defense Minister Yoav Galant promised to meet them on Sunday in what his office described as the first official meeting with them.
“We are not waiting any longer,” said protester Maleki Shem-Tov, whose 21-year-old son Omar is detained in Gaza. “We want them all back with us today. We want you, the Cabinet, the government, to imagine that these are your children.”
The plight of the hostages has captured the nation’s attention over the past three weeks. The Israeli media is filled with stories of hostages and interviews with their families.
But all options available to the military institution carry with them enormous risks. A military invasion raises the prospect of an intractable war in densely populated cities and subterranean tunnels that could drag young soldiers into a months-long quagmire.
With the hostages believed to be hiding in Hamas’s sprawling tunnel network, the intense fighting increases the potential for total chaos for soldiers and hostages alike.
Late Friday, as the Israeli military bombed Gaza from the air, land and sea with unprecedented ferocity, the families of the hostages were on edge, keenly aware of the dangers facing their loved ones.
“It’s been a long, sleepless night,” said Liat Bell Sommer, a spokeswoman for the families who said they experienced “absolute uncertainty about the fate of the hostages held there, who were also subjected to heavy bombing.”
The bombing appears to send a message to Hamas that if the group thought it could avoid a devastating ground invasion because of captives in Gaza, it was mistaken.
Balancing the interests of the families with the military goal of destroying Hamas presented a dilemma for Netanyahu Already under fire For his government’s failure to prevent the worst attack in Israel’s history and to go quickly to help the people that day.
Amos Yadlin, a retired general and former head of Israeli military intelligence, said the government’s challenge is to meet enormous popular pressure to return the hostages safely and eliminate Hamas. He insisted that the two goals could be reconciled if the government found “the right strategy.”
“The two issues must be dealt with simultaneously and they must support each other,” Yadlin said, without going into details.
But many experts believe that the best strategy for rescuing the hostages is diplomacy.
On Saturday, Hamas offered Israel a swap deal – the release of all hostages in Gaza in exchange for all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The plight of the prisoners is deeply emotional for Palestinians, who widely view the prisoners as freedom fighters.
Israel has a long history of agreeing to lopsided prisoner exchanges. In 2011, it released more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was kidnapped and dragged across the border into Gaza. Many of these prisoners, including Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, were convicted of killing Israelis.
Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, said: “If the enemy wants to end this issue immediately, we are ready for that.”
IDF spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari was evasive. He said that Hamas is engaged in “cynical exploitation” of the anxiety that grips the Israeli public.
But the families who witnessed the release of four women to Israel last week after complicated hostage diplomacy said they were not convinced the Israeli government had their interests in mind.
“They feel like they’re left behind and no one really cares about them,” said Mickey Haimovitz, a former lawmaker who spoke on behalf of the hostage families at Saturday’s protest. “No one explains what’s happening.”
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