Relatives of hostages held in Gaza say war can’t end without their release

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An Israeli campaign group led by relatives of hostages held in Gaza said Monday an end to the Israel-Hamas war without bringing the captives home would be a “national failure.”

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum responded to remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a TV interview on Sunday, in which he said the “intense phase” of the fighting in the Gaza Strip was winding down, though the war as such was not nearing its end.

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“Ending the fighting in Gaza without freeing the hostages would be an unprecedented national failure and a departure from the war’s objectives,” the families’ forum said in a statement.

“The responsibility and duty to return all hostages lies with the prime minister. There is no greater test than this.”

During Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel that started the bloodiest ever Gaza war, militants abducted 251 hostages, of whom 116 still remain in the Palestinian territory including 41 the Israeli army says are dead.

Netanyahu, in his first Israeli media interview since the war began, told Channel 14 Sunday that the goal remains to “return the kidnapped and uproot the Hamas regime” in Gaza.

He also said that he was “willing to carry out a partial deal... that will bring back some of the people (hostages), and continue the war after a pause to achieve the goal of eliminating Hamas. That I’m not willing to let go of.”

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A ceasefire proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden late last month urged a hostage release and truce agreement.

Hamas insists any deal must include a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal of troops from Gaza – demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign against Hamas in Gaza since then has killed at least 37,598 people, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

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