Israel has accused Hamas of “psychological torture” after the militant group released videos over the weekend purporting to show two Israeli hostages who were abducted in Gaza last year. The videos show the hostages beaten and pleading for help, with the latest video allegedly showing their dead bodies. Israel has said it fears the men are dead but is still working urgently through diplomatic channels to confirm their fate.
Timeline of the Hostage Crisis
The two men, Itay Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi, were civilians doing maintenance work on the Gaza border when they were captured by Hamas militants last September. A third man, soldier Noa Argaman, was shown alive but severely injured in the latest video.
Over the past four months, Hamas has periodically released videos of the hostages to apply pressure on Israel. Every video has sparked outrage and despair in Israel. The latest videos appear to be an escalation of Hamas’ cruel psychological tactics.
|3 Israeli men captured by Hamas near Gaza border
|1st Hamas video shows 3 hostages, Israel begins negotiations
|2nd video, no proof hostages alive, Israel threatens military action
|January 15, 2024
|3rd video, Noa pleads for help, says other 2 are dead
|January 16, 2024
|4th video, bodies resembling 2 hostages shown
Israel and Hamas Trade Accusations Over Fate of Hostages
After the latest videos emerged, the kibbutz where Itay Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi lived confirmed their deaths. However Israel says it has no concrete proof yet and is working urgently behind the scenes to get information.
In the videos, Noa says the two were killed in Israeli airstrikes. But Israel has vehemently denied this, saying the men were likely killed by Hamas and that the videos showing dead bodies were “Biblical cruelty” to torture the hostages’ families psychologically.
The UN, Egypt and Qatar have offered to help negotiate the release of Noa Argaman. But previous negotiation attempts have failed over disagreements about releasing Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said in a televised address: “We hold Israel fully responsible for the lives of the captive soldiers in Gaza.” Hamas has also said that many more hostages may have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza, without providing proof.
Noa Makes Desperate Plea in Video
In the latest video, Noa Argaman is shown severely injured, with a bloody bandage on his head and hooked up to an oxygen mask.
He says slowly, in pain: “Itay and Yossi were killed in bombing on the building we were held in. I don’t know if I’ll make it. Please help me.”
Noa then holds up the Israeli ID cards of Itay and Yossi, and the video pans to show two bodies.
Israel’s Foreign Minister said the video shows the “inhuman, vicious cruelty of the Hamas terror group.” Prime Minister Lapid said “Israel will not abandon our sons, we will bring our boys home.”
The Argaman family issued a statement saying “We beg you, do not abandon Noa.” Protests have broken out in Israel demanding action to rescue Noa.
But a Hamas official has warned Israel against any military action to retrieve the hostages, saying it may endanger their lives further. This indicates the road ahead for negotiations will be complicated.
Support in Israel for Military Intervention vs Prisoner Exchange
There is growing pressure within Israel for tougher military action against Hamas to prevent further hostages from being taken. But public opinion is still divided on this sensitive issue.
A snap poll on Monday found 43% of Jewish Israelis support a broad military operation into Gaza to rescue Noa, while 39% support negotiating a prisoner swap. Among Arab Israelis, 31% supported negotiations vs just 6% for a military raid.
However hawkish politicians have warned against doing any more prisoner exchanges with Hamas after the last controversial one in 2011. That deal saw over 1000 Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for 1 Israeli soldier held captive for 5 years. Many of those released ultimately returned to terror activity against Israel.
International Reaction Calls for Restraint and Talks
The UN, US and regional powers like Egypt have urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint following the inflammatory hostage videos.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said at press briefing: “We are gravely concerned about the fate of Israeli hostages […] We call on parties to remain calm and return to the negotiating table.”
Qatar has offered to host talks between Israel and Hamas to try to end the 4-month crisis. Their foreign minister said: “Further escalation serves no one. Qatar remains prepared to facilitate a prisoner exchange through calm diplomacy.”
But previous Qatar-brokered talks have collapsed over major disagreements on prisoner releases. Israel now insists Hamas must release infornation that Noa is alive before it will consider any exchanges.
What Next After the Shocking Videos?
The tragic developments mark a new phase in the hostage standoff between Israel and Gaza militants. The killings of suspected Israeli captives are likely to invite retaliation from Israel once confirmed. But a rushed military operation may also endanger Noa’s life if he is still alive.
Further inflaming tensions, Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz has vowed Hamas will “pay the price” for the videos. While Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Hamza said they have “many further cards to play” against Israel.
This means the crisis could still escalate significantly. Much will depend on whether back-channel negotiations can verify Noa’s status and ultimately broker an end to the cruel four-month saga. But with both sides expressing fury and threatening reprisal over the videos, a peaceful resolution may be increasingly difficult.
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