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Families of Hostages in Gaza Are Desperate for Proof of Life


“We share the frustration. We understand the pain,” said Jason Straziuso, a spokesman for the Red Cross. “We’re not bulletproof, and it’s not possible for us to walk into a conflict zone in hostile territory without permission — to walk up to a group of people, most certainly holding guns that they will use, and demand that they let us inside. It’s not possible.”

The Red Cross has about 130 employees in Gaza, he said, giving it some ability to deliver humanitarian aid and to visit the scenes of destruction from the war. But even with that access, meeting with the hostages requires an agreement with Hamas.

Mr. Straziuso said Red Cross officials were talking to Hamas, Israel, the United States and other nations about the condition of the hostages.

But those talks have been shrouded in secrecy.

In a statement on Monday, the Red Cross said the group is “insisting that our teams be allowed to visit the hostages to check on their welfare,” but added that “the I.C.R.C. does not take part in negotiations leading to the release of hostages. As a neutral humanitarian intermediary, we remain ready to facilitate any future release that the parties to the conflict agree to.”

Separate discussions about a possible release of some hostages are being conducted through intermediaries, with Israel and the United States communicating with Hamas only by way of messages passed back and forth by negotiators in Egypt and Qatar.

A leader of Hamas said in October that not all of the Israeli hostages who were taken to Gaza were being held by the group, a claim that most likely complicates negotiations for their release. Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’s political bureau in Lebanon, said other groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a separate organization that is an ally of Hamas, were also holding some of the hostages.

In late October, Israeli forces rescued one hostage, and four others were released by Hamas about a week earlier. But there have been no further breakthroughs.

Warring nations have blocked the Red Cross from visiting hostages or prisoners of war in previous conflicts. In 2022, eight months into the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Red Cross still had little access to prisoners held by either side. In a statement at the time, the group wrote that “blaming the I.C.R.C. for being denied full and immediate access does not help prisoners of war or their families.”

But the fact that there is no definitive playbook in the case of hostages during wartime, no exact timing for reporting about whether they are dead or alive leaves the family members with little to hold on to as the days slowly pass.

Liz Hirsh Naftali, the great-aunt of Abigail Idan, recounted on NBC News how the 3-year-old Abigail watched on Oct. 7 as Hamas fighters shot and killed her mother and ran with her father and two siblings.

“Abigail was in her father’s arms,” Ms. Naftali said on “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt. “And as they ran, a terrorist shot him and killed him, and he fell onto Abigail.”

She added, “We learned that Abigail actually had crawled out from under her father’s body and, full of his blood, went to a neighbor, and they took her in.”

Hamas later seized the neighbor, her three children and Abigail, Ms. Naftali said.

Rachel Goldberg, who is married to Mr. Polin, and other family members have said they have no idea when — or whether — they will discover anything definitive about their loved ones. Ms. Goldberg detailed the grief of a mother who has no idea if her son is alive “or if you died yesterday, or if you died five minutes ago.”

(In 2004, before moving to Israel, Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg’s son, Hersh, attended the same preschool as my children in Richmond, Va.)

Inside Israel, where the faces of the hostages are plastered everywhere on posters that proclaim them “KIDNAPPED,” activists have mounted an aggressive campaign to demand swifter action from the Red Cross.

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