‘I go to sleep a dead man’ – father’s pain at daughter’s captivity in Gaza

Image caption,Eli Albag held two contrasting photos of his daughter, Liri – the one on the right, released by Hamas after she was taken captive, shows her looking dirty and dishevelled

By Lucy Manning & Robert Greenall

BBC News

On 7 October Eli Albag’s daughter Liri was taken into Gaza as a hostage following the Hamas attacks on Israel that day.

“I wake up in the morning alive and go to sleep dead. Each day,” says Eli as he tries to cope with the pain of 18-year-old Liri’s ordeal, and his own inability to keep her safe.

Standing outside the Houses of Parliament, he holds two images of Liri, before and after she was taken captive. The contrast is heartbreaking.

In the latter – a still from a video made by Hamas after the capture – Liri looks dishevelled, with dirt pictured on her face and hoodie.

“I couldn’t sleep for three days because I see my daughter in shock,” Mr Albag says.

“I want to show to the world. This is the same girl, it is not different girls. This is Liri freedom, a girl of peace and love,” he says pointing to the first picture.

“And this is Liri in the hands of the Hamas. You see the difference. You can see in the eyes and the face.

“She see the dead, she see people with guns on her head and she see murdered girls in front of her for two hours.”

Mr Albag is one of four relatives of hostages who have come to London to lobby the UK Government to put pressure on Qatar, which is involved in talks to release the hostages but also hosts a number of senior Hamas leaders.

They say they want the Gulf state to choose whether it wants to continue to host Hamas or be “part of Western civilisation”.

Israel says more than 130 people remain unaccounted for after they were abducted during the Hamas attacks. More than 100 captives were released during a six-day ceasefire at the end of November.

Liri Albag before she was taken hostage, and then in captivity

Adding to Mr Albag’s pain is the fear that Liri may have been sexually abused by her captors.

He told the BBC that he thought released former hostages who spent time with his daughter Liri knew something about this but avoided telling him to spare him any grief.

Some released hostages have said they were told directly by other female hostages that they had been sexually assaulted. A report by the Associated Press quoted doctors as saying that 10 of those released were assaulted or abused.

Also, the BBC has seen and heard evidence of sexual violence against women on the day of the 7 October attacks.

“We know that some of the girls – it’s very difficult to say this – they attacked them, sexually, and we are worried, especially that they didn’t release them,” Liri’s father said.

He added that there were women aged between 18 and 30 who had not been released.

The former hostages would not respond to his “difficult questions” about sexual abuse and moved their eyes away, he said.

“I understand they don’t want to talk about this, they don’t want to hurt us. But we understand. We really understand,” he says.

Mr Albag says Liri is his youngest daughter, the “happiest, who liked music, who liked to dance” and who had “friends all over the world”.

He is a self-confessed tough guy but he is unable to sleep and often unable to talk because of what he thinks could be happening to her.

“All the family’s broken, she has two sisters and a young brother, and from 7 October we are not living,” he says.

“I wake up in the morning alive and go to sleep dead. Each day. This is what’s happened to us, no day no night.”

He says he knows from the released hostages that his daughter was alive and physically unhurt after 50 days of captivity, though they were living in a tunnel with no food, no water, no fresh air and no electricity. She was unable to have a shower for that whole period, he adds.

“It is our hope that we can receive her back, in good condition,” he says.

But his fears have led to other fears.

More than three months since the hostages were taken, it could soon be too late for any unwanted pregnancies – resulting from rape – to be terminated.

Mr Albag says: “The clock is ticking, there is a limit of time to stop it.”

Later on Monday the four Israelis attended a Conservative Friends of Israel meeting. Eli Albag handed UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a dog tag with the words “Bring them home”.

Another of the four, Liran Berman, whose brothers Gali and Ziv are still held hostage, explained their message for the Qataris.

“We know that Qatar is the key player,” he said. “They are hosting the leadership of Hamas but they are also investing in Western civilisation, buying football teams and properties in London, in Europe, in the US.

“They need to choose a side. If they want to be part of Western civilisation, ok, but they can’t host Hamas leaders.”

A Qatari official responded by offering “deepest sympathies” to the families of the hostages and said they were continuing to engage with all sides, “working around the clock to reunite the hostages with their families and bring an end to the war”.

“Since the first day of the crisis, Qatar has done everything it can to secure the release of hostages and prevent further bloodshed,” the official added.

“This includes using its communication channel with Hamas, established over a decade ago in coordination with the United States.

“So far, 109 hostages have been released from Gaza through these efforts, while Qatari mediation succeeded last week in reaching an agreement https://fokuslahlagi.com/ to deliver medicine to hostages and other aid to civilians in Gaza.”

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