Middle East

Israeli president talks hostages, truces and criticizes Irish PM’s tweet in CNN interview

By Sophie Tanno and Elise Garofalo, CNN

CNN  — 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog discussed the release of hostages, the likelihood of a longer truce and had some sharp words for the Irish PM in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday.

When asked by Blitzer how meaningful it was to see Israeli hostages reunited with their loved ones after being held by the terror group Hamas for over a month in Gaza, Herzog – whose role is largely ceremonial – said the moment was bittersweet.

“It’s something that gives us happiness, but of course, happiness with a lot of sorrow in it because there are at least 200 hostages still held out there in Hamas – under Hamas duress, somewhere in bunkers,” he said.

So far 41 hostages have been released in the first two days of the truce, with a third group expected on Sunday.

Herzog was speaking ahead of a third release of hostages on Sunday, which saw 17 more people released.

A longer truce?

On the topic of whether a truce could be extended, Herzog pointed out it was in the original agreement that there would be an extra day of ceasefire for every 10 hostages released. But he said it was up to Hamas to free more hostages.

“It was agreed in the original agreement, which has been violated constantly by Hamas but still implemented piecemeal, that if they bring another 10 prisoners or so the exact number, of course, is in the agreement itself, there will be an extension of another day of humanitarian pause.

“I truly hope that in this instance, they [Hamas] will release more and more and they will get more and more, humanitarian process.”

Post-war Gaza

It remains open who will run Gaza following the conflict.

Speaking about his post-war vision for Gaza, Herzog described “some sort of a formation that is effective enough, but also represents the various interests.”

“This is the vision. It has to be an interim process until there will be an exiting where we are all sure that Gaza is not anymore a terror base.”

When pressed by Blitzer on whether he was describing an international coalition involving Israel, the United States and other countries, Herzog said it would be “something in that line.”

“I would say further that this idea of a coalition or joint forces also has to look to the future of regional stability,” he added.

His words come after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described putting in place a “reconstructed civilian authority” in Gaza after the war ends, in a CNN interview earlier this month.

Herzog acknowledged Israel would have some role in a post-war Gaza, saying “the security and well-being of this place in terms of the security element, meaning fighting terror, enforcing law and order, adjudicating and so forth will stay in Israeli hands until there is an agreement.”

A two-state solution

More long-term, US President Joe Biden is among those who say that a two-state solution is needed to bring permanent peace to the region. Herzog appeared cool on the idea.

“I don’t rule out all options that could be reviewed as to the fate and what should be the vision. I definitely respect President Biden’s comments on this, and I always believed in the ability to move to peace. But I must say, honestly, we must look at the reality honestly and loosely and say, does this solution secure the well-being and peaceful existence of Israelis, as well as, of course, our Palestinian neighbors?”

“Why would any Israeli immediately rush to this solution when he or she thinks that that state one day can be taken over by Hamas?

Irish prime minister

Among those freed Saturday was a nine-year-old girl with joint Irish and Israeli citizenship, Emily Hand.

Reacting to the news, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar tweeted that “an innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned.”

Herzog criticized the remark. “I saw a leader from another – from a distinguished European country tweet as to the release of one of the girls who was released last night saying that she was – she got lost and thank God she’s back home. No, sir. She wasn’t lost. She was kidnapped by terrorists of the worst kind that humanity has seen since World War II.”

He went on to accuse Western countries of being “indifferent” to Israeli suffering.

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