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Israeli father fears hostage daughter was sexually abused

Eli
Eli Aldbag 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

The father of an Israeli hostage in Gaza has said he fears his 18-year-old daughter may have been sexually abused by her captors.

Eli Albag 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.

He said the pain this was causing him had made him a "dead man" and he was only able to keep going by taking "medicine".

Israel says more than 130 people remain unaccounted for after they were abducted during the 7 October attacks by Hamas. More than 100 captives were released during a six-day ceasefire at the end of November.

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.

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".

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".

Standing outside the Houses of Parliament in London, he held two contrasting photos of her - one taken before the Hamas attack, the other taken by Hamas after she was captured. In the latter, Liri looks dishevelled, with dirt pictured on her face and hoodie.

"You see the eyes - they say all. They say, she's afraid," Mr Albag said of the photo.

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.

"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 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.

"It's difficult to say, and difficult to think, but I worry that they've done something wrong to these girls. I cannot understand them, I cannot understand these animals."

With more than three months having passed since the hostages were taken, another sensitive issue arises.

Amid fears that some may have been raped, it could soon be too late for any unwanted pregnancies to be terminated.

Mr Albag shares this fear and accepts that 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 to deliver medicine to hostages and other aid to civilians in Gaza."