The Gulf state’s mediation led to the successful release of four captives.
A number of pro-Israel demonstrators gathered in front of Qatar’s embassy in London on Sunday to demand the release of captives held by Hamas in Gaza as the Gulf power continues its mediation efforts to de-escalate the war.
Footage and images that circulated on social media showed hundreds of demonstrators hoisting the Israeli flag as well as signs calling for the release of captives captured by Hamas during its October 7 operation.
The historic Palestinian operation was carried out by the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, and saw the group break out from the besieged Gaza Strip and into occupied areas through air, land and sea attacks.
Israeli occupation forces (IOF) spokesman Daniel Hagari confirmed on Sunday that there are 239 captives in Gaza, up from the previous 229 number. However, Hamas has previously confirmed at least 50 have been killed by the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
Qatar, the host of the Hamas political bureau, has been leading negotiations to release civilians since the beginning of the escalations. However, the Gulf state does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and has long expressed its staunch refusal to normalise with the occupying state over its ongoing violations of Palestinians’ rights.
Reports from the protest in Mayfair, which reportedly lasted for just over an hour, cited organisers from the Bring Them Home Now initiative saying that Qatar has “positioned itself as a mediator of hostage release”.
“We are reaching out for help. We are reaching out to world leaders, to the Parliament to use whatever means they have at their disposal to bring the hostages home,” Gary Weiss, a member of Bring Them Home Now, told PA news agency.
On 20 October, Qatar’s diplomatic role proved to be successful with the release of two American captives, identified as Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan—a mother and a daughter, from Hamas.
Then on 23 October, Qatar and Egypt pushed for the release of two elderly women from Hamas, both identified as 79-year old Nurit Yitzhak and 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz.
Hamas said it released all captives on humanitarian grounds while the Gulf state has confirmed that efforts to release more people from Gaza have not stopped.
The Independent cited a Qatari diplomat from the embassy in London saying that the Gulf state “has been working tirelessly since the start of the escalation in Gaza to secure the release of innocent civilian hostages and end the suffering on all sides.”
“As a mediator capable of engaging with all sides in the conflict, we are using all available communication channels to try to find a breakthrough that will return the remaining civilians to their families as soon as possible,” the diplomat, who has not been named, said, as quoted by the British newspaper.
They added: “We share the same wishes as the protesters in seeing all civilian hostages released and reunited with their loved ones. From day one, our goal has been to de-escalate the crisis and protect innocent lives.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been facing mounting pressure from Israelis who called on him to commit to a full prisoner exchange.
“As far as the families are concerned, a deal of a return of our family members immediately in the framework of ‘all for all’ is feasible, and there will be wide national support for this,” said MeIrav Gonen, the representative for the families, reported Al Jazeera earlier this week.
Ifat Kalderon, a family member of one of the captives, also openly supported the Palestinian prisoner release, stating: “Take them, we don’t need them here. I want my family and all the hostages to come back home, they are citizens, they are not soldiers.”
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said on Saturday that he is “ready to conduct an immediate prisoner exchange deal that includes the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for all prisoners held by the Palestinian resistance.”
There are at least 1,264 administrative detainees and 170 child prisoners behind Israeli bars, per figures shared by Palestine’s Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
Israel, together with its western backers, has used the unprecedented Palestinian operation and the captives’ file to justify its ongoing bombardment of Gaza. At least 8,306 Palestinians, including 3,195 children, have been killed by Israel since it declared war on the Strip.
In an interview with Sky News on Thursday, Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed Al Khulaifi noted that the non-stop bombardment has made the mediation much more challenging.
“With this violence increasing everyday, with this bombing continuous everyday our task has become even more difficult. But despite that, we remain hopeful, we remain committed to our role of reaching out to the parties with the aim of reaching a positive result,” he said.
He added: “In any normal scenario, if the mediator wants to perform its task in the best way possible, we need to reach a period of calm, we need to reach a period where we can speak logically to both sides and come up with positive initiatives on that.”