The Telegraph 2024-04-25 01:00:31

Seventy Israeli hostages have been killed, says captive

Around half of the remaining Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas have been killed in Gaza, an Israeli-American captive said in a rare proof-of-life video.

Hamas released a two-minute video on Wednesday night showing 24-year-old Hersch Goldberg-Polin appealing to the Israeli government to bring him home.

Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas that would have included a hostage swap and pause in fighting have collapsed.

The video was released as Israel is preparing to move Palestinian civilians out of Rafah ahead of a major offensive. Hamas has warned that an attack would risk the lives of more hostages.

Mr Goldberg-Polin, born in California, was kidnapped from the Supernova festival, where he lost an arm in a grenade attack.

The video was likely made under duress, and Mr Goldberg-Polin appeared sickly, pale and thin as he read at least part of his statement from a teleprompter.

It was not clear when the video was recorded but it appears to have been very recent as Mr Goldberg-Polin spoke about 200 days of captivity, which he would have marked earlier this week, and the festival of Passover, which began on Monday evening. He spoke about living in “underground hell without water, food, sun or medical treatment”.

He said at least 70 of the remaining 130 or so hostages had been killed in Gaza in Israeli bombings, likely repeating a line given to him by his captors. Official Israeli estimates have put the number closer to 35.

A White House spokesman confirmed it had received the video, the first Hamas has publicly released of a US hostage.

An official said the FBI and hostage rescue experts have been analysing the footage to ascertain if they can glean anything from it.

Mr Goldberg-Polin, whose family has been one of the most active advocates of a hostage deal with Hamas, said Benjamin Netanyahu and his government “should be ashamed of themselves” for not stopping the war in Gaza.

Mr Goldberg-Polin told his parents in the video “I love you and I miss you so much” and wished them a happy Passover.

His family have mounted a campaign pushing for his release, with posters showing him smiling and displaying the slogan “Bring Hersch home” often seen on the walls of Israeli towns.

His family did not have an immediate comment but said it would release a statement later.

A group representing the families of some of the hostages said on Wednesday that the family had agreed for the media to use the video which they said underlined their son’s plight.

“Hersh’s cry is the collective cry of all the hostages – their time is rapidly running out,” the group said.

“We cannot afford to waste any more time; the hostages must be the top priority.”

Hamas has repeatedly said that it is not aware of the whereabouts of all 133 hostages who are currently in captivity in Gaza as some of them were abducted by Palestinian civilians rather than Hamas fighters.

In recent ceasefire negotiations, Hamas refused to share a list of all living hostages with Israel, raising fears there are fewer survivors than previously thought.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s army chief Herzl Halevi and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar went to Cairo to discuss with Egyptian intelligence officers Israel’s plans for a Rafah operation, as well as efforts to reach a hostage deal with Hamas.

The US and the West has clashed with Israel over its Rafah plans, and has also been pressuring the Israeli government over illegal settlements

The US State Department on Wednesday described as “dangerous and reckless” reports that Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister, was pushing to legalise dozens of settler outposts in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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US secretly sent long-range missiles to Ukraine

The US secretly sent long-range ballistic missiles to Ukraine for the first time and they have already been used against Russian forces, officials said Wednesday.

American officials confirmed on Wednesday that Kyiv had already been sent long-range ATACMS as part of a $300 million (£241 million) shipment that was signed off by Joe Biden, the US president, in March.

Ukraine is said to have already used the missiles to target a Russian airfield in Crimea last week and strike forces located near a port city in the south east.

The agreement was so secretive that US politicians have been putting pressure on Mr Biden to supply the missiles without realising they had already been sent and used in the field.

ATACMS have a range of roughly 300km or 190 miles, meaning Kyiv can now hit targets further inside Crimea and Russian logistics in the occupied territories while staying out of range of returning fire.

Unlike cruise missiles that Ukraine already has in its arsenal, such as the Storm Shadows sent from Britain, ATACMS can accelerate to three times the speed of sound, making them difficult for air defence systems to intercept.

Kyiv has consistently put Washington under pressure to supply the missiles. However, Mr Biden has proved reluctant fearing the move could provoke Russia and cause the war to escalate.

After months of resistance from Right-wing Republicans, the US Congress passed a foreign aid bill this week that included $61 billion of funding earmarked for Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Mr Biden said he would send over an initial $1 billion support package “in the next few hours”, including shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles, 155-millimetre shells, Javelin anti-tank missiles and cluster munitions.

The US is providing more long-range ATACMS in the new military aid package, however officials would not provide the exact number of missiles given last month or the number that would be sent as part of the next shipment.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, confirmed that ATACMS were part of the package, which he praised as the “exact types of weapons that our warriors require”.

Grateful to Biden

He said on a video uploaded to social media: “I am grateful to President Biden, the US Congress and all Americans who realise the need to take the wind out of Putin’s sails, not to submit to him, as only then will there be fewer threats to freedom.”

Mr Biden said the $1bn package would prevent Russia from conquering Ukraine and attacking a Nato member state, which would drag the US into a war.

“It’s going to make America safer.  It’s going to make the world safer.  And it continues America’s leadership in the world, and everyone knows it,” he said on Thursday.

“In the next few hours – literally, the few hours – we’re going to begin sending in equipment to Ukraine for air defence; munitions for artillery, for rocket systems; and armoured vehicles.”

He also hit out at “MAGA Republicans” in Congress for blocking the aid while “Ukraine has been running out of artillery shells and ammunition”.

Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker, eventually allowed a vote to come to the floor of the House of Representatives last week.

In October, the US sent mid-range ATACMs, which can travel about 100 miles, to Ukraine.

One official said Mr Biden had acted after Russia had acquired long-range ballistic missiles from North Korea. The administration is said to have warned Moscow that it would provide the same capability to Kyiv if it did so.

The weapons were apparently used early last week to strike an airfield in Dzhankoi, a city on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

They were also said to have been used in an overnight strike on Russian troops east of the occupied city of Berdyansk. How precisely they were used and in what number is unclear.

Adm Christopher Grady, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that long-range weapons were being provided to help take out Russian logistics and troop concentrations behind the front line.

He declined to identify what specific weapons were being provided but said they will be “very disruptive if used properly, and I’m confident they will be.”

“I think the time is right, and the boss [Mr Biden] made the decision the time is right to provide these based on where the fight is right now,” he said on Wednesday.

The weapons on Ukraine’s shopping list

Read more

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