GENEVA, Dec 7 — Israeli criticism of the International Committee of the Red Cross is “a problem for the staff” that “can also endanger the hostages” held in Gaza, the organisation’s president said yesterday.

Mirjana Spoljaric returned to Geneva from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after a brief visit to the Palestinian territory.

The ICRC has helped to facilitate the return of more than 100 of the 240 hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the group’s October 7 attack in Israel.

However, the Swiss-based organisation has faced stinging criticism from the Israeli authorities and some relatives of the hostages.

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It has among other things been accused of not doing enough to visit the hostages in detention, and of not bringing them medicine.

“The situation is extremely complex. We cannot simply decide to go out and visit the hostages,” Spoljaric told Swiss news agency Keystone-ATS.

The security of ICRC staff and their ability to travel could be compromised by such criticisms, which “can also endanger the hostages beyond what is already the case”, she added.

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She voiced confidence that ICRC’s interlocutors had understood that message, stressing that there is sometimes a difference between what was said in public and the discussions taking place in private.

Spoljaric refused to comment on any whether she held any meetings with Hamas representatives during her visit to Gaza, only saying she “had very little opportunity to move around”.

Spoljaric has previously indicated that she also had plans to visit Israel in the coming weeks.

The Israeli army said Wednesday said the ICRC “must have access to the hostages” still being held by Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israel says 138 hostages out of the estimated 240 people seized in Hamas’s October 7 attack are still being held by the Palestinian armed group and its allies.

Around 1,200 people were killed in the attack, most of them civilians, Israeli officials say.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas, launching a major offensive in Gaza that has so far killed more than 16,200 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas government.

A one-week truce between Israel and Hamas saw 105 hostages released from the Gaza Strip, including 80 Israelis — mostly women and children — exchanged for 240 Palestinians jailed by Israel, with the Red Cross helping to facilitate the trades.

The released hostages and detainees were entrusted to ICRC staff and transported in the organisation’s vehicles.

Hamas has now ruled out a further release of hostages without a permanent ceasefire. — AFP