UK Gaza hostage relatives warn time is running out as Hamas floats ceasefire deal

Relatives of four Gaza hostages met Rishi Sunak at Downing Street (Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing St)
Relatives of four Gaza hostages met Rishi Sunak at Downing Street (Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing St)

UK-based relatives of hostages held in Gaza warned on Wednesday that time was running out for their loved ones, as Hamas tabled a tentative deal to end the war with Israel.

The ceasefire proposals, which include three 45-day phases of a truce involving hostage/prisoner swaps, came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed into talks with Israeli leaders.

He was on his fifth visit to the region since the war broke out when Hamas massacred 1,200 Israeli civilians and took some 250 people hostage - half of whom remain in Gaza.

Rishi Sunak met the relatives of two British hostages, and those of two other hostages with close ties to the UK, on Tuesday at 10 Downing Street and vowed to do all he could to end their “unthinkable horror”.

Addressing a news conference on Wednesday morning, London-based artist Sharone Lifschitz said her 83-year-old father Oded had “complex medical needs and is really not built for the conditions of being a hostage”.

Her mother Yocheved, 85, was among the first hostages to be freed in October. “She was released because of humanitarian reasons and there is nothing stopping Hamas from releasing more people for humanitarian reasons,” Ms Lifschitz said.

She added of her father: “Every time I put a blanket on my shoulders, I think of his cold shoulders.”

Steve Brisley, whose brother-in-law Eli Sharabi also remains held in Gaza, said the hostages’ fate should never have become part of a wider deal as the abductions violated international law.

“Every single passing hour and day is a passing hour and day that a lot of the hostages simply do not have,” he said. “So all I can say is, whatever needs to be done to bring the hostages home safely and alive must be done.”

Mr Blinken acknowledged "there's still a lot of work to be done” prior to his meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the chief US diplomat has been stepping up his efforts to bring about a new ceasefire as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza rises to more than 27,000.

He said yesterday in Qatar that a pathway to a durable peace involving Palestinian statehood was "coming ever more sharply into focus" but would require "hard decisions" by the region's leaders.

Mr Netanyahu, who leads an unpopular far-right government, remains implacably opposed to a Palestinian state and says the war will continue until Hamas is destroyed.