Israel-Hamas war: Families speak of fear after children taken hostage by militants | Stuart Ramsay | World News

Kidnapped Maya and Itay poster

There is virtually nothing the families of the Hamas hostages can do but sit and wait for a phone call.

We met two families. They can barely sleep, and they don’t go out. They just wait hour after painful hour for news.

The fate of all the hostages from nations across the world is unknown.

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For the Israeli families, there is an added sense of dread that Hamas may simply refuse to do a deal involving their loved ones, even if they let the foreign nationals go – and that is anything but assured either.

Shai Wenkert’s son Omer is one of those being held in Gaza.

He knows because Hamas posted a video of his son across the border. It was shared on their Telegram channel and quickly went viral.

It shows the 22-year-old tied up, being beaten, and lying in the back of a pick-up truck, staring into the camera.

Omer Wenkert in the clip from Hamas

Omer Wenkert and friend Kim at the festival
Omer Wenkert and his friend Kim Damti at the Supernova festival

This video was one of the first to alert the world to what was happening in southern Israel.

Shai has it on his phone. He showed it to me, along with a picture of his son being held captive inside Gaza.

Also on his phone are the final pictures Omer sent the family – one of him with his childhood friend Kim Damti at the Supernova festival where there was a massacre. Another photo was of him and her in a bomb shelter.

Kim was killed shortly after.

Shai and his wife want their son back, but like all the hostages’ families he knows that the time for diplomacy is short, and that an Israeli ground invasion will potentially make a successful outcome difficult.

Shai Wenker shows Ramsay picture of son Omer
Shai Wenkert shows Stuart Ramsay a picture of his son Omer

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Shai, along with other families, has met Benjamin Netanyahu, who assured him bringing the hostages home is a priority.

“We trust that they will do the right thing. We met with the Israeli prime minister. There was a meeting, they told us that this is one of the missions.”

But Shai wants them to take it slowly and give diplomacy a chance as well.

“I hope they will do it step by step, for my hope, okay, take them out first. If you want to invade and you want to do a massive attack, you want to isolate Hamas because you compare them to ISIS, so it’s difficult.”

He continued: “There are a lot of citizens over there. It’s not just to bomb them and – this is a step by step. I hope that the prime minister and the army, the IDF will do, first the humanitarian – take the citizen out.”

Shai also hopes that if a deal is done, it will include Israeli hostages.

“We are all humans, we are all humans. Omer was kidnapped because he’s Israeli, because he’s a Jew, and there were Americans kidnapped and I know about 16 countries, foreign citizens that were kidnapped. But we’re all human. I don’t care if it’s Christian, Muslim or Jew. They’re all human.”

Read more:
Hamas gunmen ‘took time over torture’
Inside the military base where Israeli troops train
Couple’s desperate last messages before Hamas massacre

Kidnapped Maya and Itay poster
A poster of Maya and Itay Regev who have been kidnapped

‘He is killing us, Dad, he is killing us’

The lack of news, the lack of information, is testing all the families whose loved ones are being held.

Ilan and Mirit Regev have barely slept since their children, Maya and Itay, were taken.

Maya and Itay Regev
Maya and Itay Regev

Ilan and Mirat Regev
Ilan and Mirat Regev

They had just returned from a holiday in Mexico with their mother, celebrating her 50th birthday.

When they arrived back at the family apartment from the airport, the siblings dumped their suitcases, grabbed a few things, and headed straight to the festival in southern Israel.

Maya sent a video as the attack began.

It shows her cowering in a car, clearly distressed. The only words we can make out are her whispering “save me”.

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The 21-year-old also called her father on the phone – she’s panicking and dreadfully frightened.

“Where are you?” her father Ilan asks.

“I don’t know… he is killing us, Dad, he is killing us,” she screams.

He asks her to send their location and tells them to hide.

She replies: “Dad, I love you, we’re in the car, we can’t get out.”

Maya and Itay Regev family photos
Maya and Itay Regev’s family photos

This was the last time they heard from her, but the Israeli security forces have since confirmed both Maya and her 18-year-old brother have been taken hostage and are in Gaza.

Their parents say they’re relieved that their children are at least still alive – it gives them hope.

“For me, this was disaster, disaster, because after the phone when I speak with my daughter my life, it’s like hell, hell,” their father told me.

“And when I hear the same day in the night, I hear that my son has been kidnapped, it was so absurd that I was a little bit happy that I hear my son was kidnapped.

“But then all my thought, all the power, everything went to my daughter, and what to do and where to find her, and I seriously hoped I would get a call to tell me that my daughter has been kidnapped too.”

Their mother Mirit describes Maya and Itay as fun-loving, peace-loving kids, who were celebrating life.

“They’re not soldiers, they just wanted to go to a party, to have fun,” she said.

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Chaos inside Gaza hospital after airstrike

The family are hoping diplomacy works, and they too are worried about the ground invasion.

I asked them what it is they want, and they say all they want is to know their children are still alive.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the government or Egypt or Qatar, I don’t care. Bring me a sign of life, it doesn’t matter – that’s what I want to know now, that’s what is important to me now.”

The coming hours, maybe days, could be crucial to a peaceful ending to this hostage crisis.

All these families can do is wait – and hope.

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