An 85-year-old Israeli peace activist who was kidnapped by Hamas and later released, described how she confronted the Hamas chief, Yahya Sinwar, in a Gaza tunnel and told him he should be “ashamed of himself” for his role in ordering the 7 October massacre of 1,200 Israelis.
Yocheved Lifshitz, who was freed in October before the current series of hostage and Palestinian prisoner releases, said she met Sinwar in a part of the Hamas tunnel network where she was being held captive, which she previously described as an extensive warren.
“Sinwar was with us three to four days after we arrived. I asked him how he is not ashamed to do such a thing to people who have supported peace all these years,” Lifshitz told the Hebrew-language newspaper Davar, while attending a protest for the return of hostages still held by Hamas on Tuesday evening.
“He didn’t answer,” she added. “He was silent.”
Lifshitz, who spent years campaigning for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, is the latest released hostage to indicate she had encountered Sinwar during her captivity as it emerged that hostages held in different places by different factions appeared to have experienced different conditions of imprisonment.
With her husband, Oded, 83, who is still being held by Hamas, Lifshitz had helped sick Palestinians in Gaza get to hospitals in Israel.
Lifschitz’s comments to a Davar reporter follow reports that Sinwar also met other kidnapped Israelis who were abducted from kibbutz Nir Oz within a day of being taken hostage.
During the visit, Sinwar and his brother Mohammed, a senior figure in the group’s armed wing, told the hostages they would not be harmed and would be returned to Israel as part of an exchange deal.
According to a relative of a recently released hostage, quoted by Israel’s Channel 12, Sinwar introduced himself to a group of hostages from Nir Oz in Hebrew, saying: “Hello, I am Yahya Sinwar. You are the most protected here. Nothing will happen to you.”
Sinwar learned Hebrew while serving a long prison sentence in Israel for the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers, being freed in 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange to secure the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Sinwar’s encounters with Hamas hostages in the tunnels, on top of the heavily choreographed nature of the hostage releases, appears to suggest that Sinwar, accused by Israel of being one of the masterminds of the 7 October massacre, was conscious that an exchange of hostages for prisoners was a possibility.
Lifshitz had previously described the scenes of horror she had witnessed on 7 October. After her release she said: “They went rampant in our kibbutz. They blew up the electronic fence, that special fence that cost $2.5bn [£2bn] to build but didn’t help with anything.
“Masses mobbed our homes. They beat people, took some hostage. They didn’t distinguish between young and elderly. It was very painful. They brought us to the entrance to the tunnels. We arrived in the tunnel and walked for kilometres on wet dirt. There is a giant system of tunnels, like spiderwebs.”