Israeli Hostage Families Want UK Government To Up Pressure On Qatar To Secure Releases
Liran Berman is working to secure the release of his twin brothers Ziv and Gali who were kidnapped from kibbutz Kfar Aza on 7 October by Hamas. (alamy)
Families of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas during the horrific 7 October attacks have issued a call to the UK government to urgently put pressure on Qatar to secure their release.
Liran Berman, 36, is desperate to secure the return of his 26 year old twin brothers Ziv and Gali, who were kidnapped from the kibbutz Kfar Aza on the 7 October when Hamas launched an assault on southern Israel from Gaza - killing more than 1,200 Israelis and kidnapping hundreds more.
There have been several hostage releases since the attack amid Israel's subsequent war against Hamas in return for Palestinian prisoner releases by Israel, but Ziv and Gali remain among 132 Israelis that the IDF say are hostages in Gaza, their fate unknown. The youngest hostage, Kfir Bibas, turned one year old on 18 January – if he is still alive.
Berman, along with families of other hostages, is currently touring capitals across the world in an attempt to drum up international support for their campaign to free the hostages.
"We met the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak [on Monday], and [on Tuesday] we met with David Cameron," Berman told PoliticsHome.
"We asked them – we pleaded to them – to continue the pressure on Qatar, because only through pressure on Qatar can another deal be facilitated."
Qatar has emerged as a key player in hostage negotiations, with Qatari officials acting as the primary mediators between the terror group and the Israeli government. A significant proportion of Hamas' leadership is also headquartered in the gulf state – including Hamas chairman, Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Doha.
On Tuesday Hamas rejected an Israeli proposal for a two-month ceasefire and exile of Hamas leadership in Gaza in return for the remaining hostages in Gaza.
However, according to Reuters, both Israel and Hamas agree an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners could happen during a month-long ceasefire – but plans are being delayed by differences over how to achieve a permanent ceasefire to end the war which has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
"We are here [in London] to put pressure on Qatar because we know they are the key player... they're playing on both sides of the field," Berman continued.
"On the one field, they are hosting Hamas terrorists – the leadership of Hamas lives in Doha – and they are paying them millions and millions of dollars every year.
"And on the other hand, they are investing in western civilization - they have more properties in the UK than the royal family, they are buying football teams, hotels all over the world.
"And they are trying to present themselves as a beacon of Western civilization in the Middle East, while still hosting a terrorist organisation in their land.
"We know that Qatar helped facilitate the last [hostage] deal, they were key player then – and now they're waiting to see what will happen. To see if people will forget, if people will continue investing, [while] they continue to host Hamas."
When it comes to the events of 7 October Berman, who is the eldest of four brothers, said the family were left waiting more than a week after the initial attack to discover the fate of the twins.
"My parents got rescued by the IDF at midnight Saturday, and my brother didn't get rescued until the Sunday afternoon," he said.
"From then, we waited for 10 days with [the twins] considered missing, and we kind of buried them in our minds. We were waiting for the IDF to call us, to recognise the bodies – because we weren't very hopeful; we didn't even think about kidnapping, it wasn't in our minds."
Berman said that after 10 days, IDF intelligence agencies informed the family they believed the twins had been taken into Gaza as hostages by Hamas. He said "absurdly" it was "good news" because "the other option was that [he] needed to bury [his] two little brothers".
"We had the proof of life 54 days later, when they released other hostages – they told us that they saw them in the tunnels," he continued.
"Both had minor injuries – but minor injuries in the tunnels with lack of treatment can turn severe injuries, so now we don't know the conditions."
He said Ziv and Gali, who work together and have been travelling together, are rarely apart – making the situation even more painful, as it is believed they are likely to have been separated.
"They have been each other's best friends since birth; they are always together," Berman said.
"I think it's the first time that they've been separated that long. They work in the same company as light technicians."
Speaking from London, Berman said while their football team in Israel is Maccabi Tel Aviv, their UK team is Liverpool – and he hopes one day he can return to the UK and take them both to a match when they're released.
"This is our dream," said Liran. "To come, all four of us [brothers], to watch Liverpool play."
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