Frequently asked questions on ICRC and the hostages held in Gaza

Families of the hostages are enduring unimaginable suffering, as they wait for news from their loved ones. We acknowledge their expectations and the requests for us to help, and understand the frustration when we cannot provide immediate results.
Article 20 November 2023 Israel and the occupied territories

From day one, we have called for the immediate release of all the hostages, and for access to them. We have continuously requested information on them and their current health condition.  We haven´t stopped doing so and will continue as long as it takes.

But we are not the ones making the decision and creating the conditions for access to materialize. We wish we had that power, but we don´t. We have facilitated two release operations and we are relieved that four persons were reunited with their loved ones. But it is not enough, we have repeatedly confirmed our readiness to facilitate the release of all hostages. For that, parties need to agree among themselves. If that does not happen, the ICRC cannot take action.

Below are some answers to common questions we received. We will continue to update this document as needed.

For families of the hostages, our hotline is available.

Please call us at 03 524 5286, for contact in Hebrew and English, or + 972 3 5245286 if you are calling from abroad.

For contact in Arabic, please call 08 283 2400.

We treat each individual case with utmost importance.

What is the ICRC doing to help those taken hostage?

We want families in Israel and abroad to know that the plight of their loved ones being held hostage is one of our priorities. Since day one, we have publicly and repeatedly called to have access to them and for their immediate release.

• We are persistently advocating for the hostages, directly with Hamas, with the Israeli authorities, and with actors who have an influence on the parties to the conflict.

• We continue to request information on and access. We also continue to request that they be able to share a message with their families.

• We reiterate that the hostages should be released immediately and unconditionally and, while in captivity, they must be treated humanely, have access to medical care if needed, be able to get in contact with their loved ones, and that they must ultimately be released without harm.

• We stand ready to facilitate their release, as we have done for four hostages so far.

We are speaking with Hamas at highest levels. We held meetings with international officials to convey the message. We are also demanding at least to give the hostages medical treatment and convey messages to their families.

We strengthened our team in charge of this dialogue, to intensify our efforts, and staff in Gaza is ready to visit the hostages and to facilitate any future release following an agreement reached by the parties.

We are doing all we can and more, publicly and behind doors, to obtain access to the hostages. We can´t force ourselves in. It is the responsibility of the parties to give us the green-light and the access that we are constantly asking for.

Are you putting enough pressure on Hamas?

From day one we’ve been advocating with Hamas to give us access to the hostages with four asks:

1. Immediate release of all hostages

2. Information on them and their health situation

3. Access to them, to make sure that they are treated humanely and with dignity, to check their health conditions and provided the health care needed. Some of them also may require urgent treatment for their pre-existing health conditions and potentially new ones.

4. Send messages from them to their families

We haven´t stopped this dialogue since the beginning, and we will continue. To build and maintain trust, our mode of operation is a bilateral, confidential dialogue.

People might not see us on television or on social media speaking about these talks. It may feel like we are silent, but we are where it most counts. We are not outspoken because we know from decades of experience that the way we can best influence change for those we want to help is to keep a low profile and advocate for the best interests of those we want to help discretely and directly with those who have the influence to make a difference.

Have you had any communication with Hamas on the number, identity, or condition of any of the hostages?

We are speaking with Hamas and we are also speaking with Israeli authorities on this issue. The content of these conversations is confidential – as is our approach globally – but what we can say is that we have been clear that we stand ready as a neutral intermediary to conduct humanitarian visits; facilitate communication between hostages and family members; and facilitate any eventual release. 

Who manages the negotiations and take care of the needs of the abductees in terms of medicine, medical treatment, food?

Those who are holding the hostages are responsible for their health and safety, and they must treat them humanely and with dignity. We have repeatedly called for access, to check their health conditions and provide any support that is needed, and from day one, we advocated behind closed doors for their release and welfare.

As for the negotiations, this is not the role of the ICRC contrary to what some may expect. Such negotiations happen between parties and others who may support. Moreover, the ICRC does not chose who gets released and based on which arrangement. We advocate for the release of all hostages.

In the meantime, we are also ready to help the hostages in any way we can – either by visiting them in person to check on their health or to deliver personal medicines. We are eager to help facilitate the exchange of simple messages between the hostages and their family members, and of course we are ready to facilitate their release. However, we need all actors who can influence the situation to help us advance humanitarian goals on all sides.

Who conducted the negotiations for the release of the hostages who have been released?

The ICRC is not a negotiator. We are a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization and do not take part in any negotiations or political deals between the sides. Our role is to support the release of the hostages and remind both sides of their obligations according to International Humanitarian Law. We are ready to support any additional hostages release at any moment, and our role as a neutral intermediary is purely humanitarian.

What is the ICRC doing exactly when conducting an operation like the release of hostages?

Once an agreement has been reached, our role is to receive and bring the hostages safely out of the Gaza Strip to a previously agreed location.

To what extent is the ICRC in touch with the families of the abductees?

Since 7th of October, we have received many inquiries from people in Israel, and abroad, desperate to know about the fate of their missing family members. Our President Ms. Mirjana Spoljaric met three times with representatives of the families, and our Head of Delegation in Israel has received the representatives and the families twice. We established a hotline for families to call and met several of them multiple times.

We have held professional meetings with different agencies in Israel providing the victims of the 7.10 attacks with mental support, to offer our organization’s advice and expertise in treating persons impacted by armed conflicts. We have also reached out to embassies whose nationals are held hostage to provide them with relevant information. So far, we have attended around 200 calls and meetings with relevant groups.

Why does the ICRC not accept medicines offered by the families to be given to the hostages?

We have repeatedly asked for access to the people being held, to check on their health conditions and make sure they have the humanitarian assistance they need. This is our priority. We stand ready to provide the necessary aid, including health support, to the hostages but first we must have access to them. 

What do you have to say about the demonstrations calling upon the ICRC to act in favour of the hostages?

We understand the frustration of the families and the citizens of Israel. We have met many family members and comprehend that each individual - be it a child, a man, or a woman - is a world unto themselves. We also met with the organizers of those demonstrations, to hear their concerns and asks, and inform about ICRC´s efforts.

Our position is clear: holding the hostages is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law, and they must be released immediately. We will persist in working for the benefit of all the hostages and their families.

Why are you not publicly condemning Hamas for keeping all these people hostage?

Our objective is to bring the hostages back to their relatives, and to gain access to them. We have repeatedly said that the taking of hostages is against International Humanitarian Law and that they must be immediately released.We are not an organization focused on denunciation. Years of experience speaking with parties to the conflict and non-state armed groups have proven that our bilateral approach to raise issues of concern is important to achieve results.

Why are you silent about the hostages?

From day one we have been very vocal with our public call for release of all hostages. We have published a dozen of statements where this has been communicated publicly. Our President has met with relatives of the hostages and has herself publicly asked for their release.

My relative has been abducted during the escalation of violence. Can you help and how should I contact you?

We know that your current situation is incredibly distressing for you and your loved ones. Within ICRC’s mandate and capacities, and despite the difficult security conditions, we are ready to do everything we can to help. We are operating our hotline and have been responding to families´ questions, and supporting the follow-up of specific cases.

For contact in Hebrew and English, please call us on 03 524 5286.

If you are calling from abroad, call + 972 3 5245286.

For contact in Arabic, call 08 283 2400.