Families of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas tour Europe to keep focus on plight

MADRID (Reuters) - Family members of people taken hostage by Hamas after their Oct. 7 attack on Israel are conducting a tour of Europe to maintain the focus on the plight of their loved ones and urge the world to help recover them.

The relatives addressed the media on Wednesday in Paris and Rome, where they also met Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. On Thursday another group spoke to media in Madrid as well as meeting Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.

A spokesman for the Israeli civil society groups that organised the tour in conjunction with the Israeli foreign ministry said the trips were funded by private contributions and events would also take place in Brussels, Copenhagen, The Hague, Vienna and Berlin in the coming days.

In Madrid, the families urged the government to encourage the few countries in direct contact with Hamas to press for the hostages' release.

Yulie Ben-Ami whose parents Ohad and Raz were kidnapped in Be’eri Kibbutz in southern Israel, said they were in grave danger but had done "nothing wrong".

"There are children, old people over 80. They shouldn't be suffering this, they are not to blame," she said.

Some 222 people aged from 9 months to 85 years were taken hostage after the attack in which Hamas killed 1,400 people.

The hostages are believed to be hidden in the Gaza Strip, possibly in a warren of tunnels Hamas has built there.

Health officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said more than 7,000 people have been killed since Israel began its bombing campaign in response.

Hamas said on Thursday that an estimated 50 Hamas-held captives have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza. Reuters was not able to verify the numbers.

On Thursday, Israel said its ground forces made a push into Gaza overnight in preparation for a ground invasion.

Families of some hostages have warned such a move could put them in further danger.

Merav Mor Raviv, whose uncle, aunt, cousin and her nine-year-old son were kidnapped, said she had no view on how the hostages should be recovered: "We are not political or diplomats.

"I'm not the one who has to give the world the solution. I came here to tell the truth, not all the other things that Hamas shows you on television."

Maayan Sigal-Koren, whose mother and her partner were kidnapped in Nir Yitzhak along with three other relatives, said: "I want my mother back, I want her back now, and I don't care about anything else."

Naama Weinberg's cousin Itai Svirsky was kidnapped while his parents were killed. She questioned why the Red Cross had not visited the hostages in the Gaza Strip to check on their wellbeing, provide elderly people with medication and babies with nappies and formula.

"The world has seen the horrible things that Hamas has done, they were all streamed live on Facebook, Telegram," she said.

"I'm sad for any victim that is hurt from both sides. It should just stop immediately."

(Reporting by Aislinn Laing, Guillermo Martinez and Elena Rodriguez; Editing by Giles Elgood)