Families of Israeli captives deny leaking Netanyahu Qatar tape

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In leaked audio, Israeli PM is heard criticising Doha in its role in negotiating the release of captives held by Hamas.

Families of Israelis held captive in Gaza have said denied they were behind the leak of audio in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised Qatar’s role in talks with Hamas over the release of the captives.

“All conversations that take place in meetings with the Prime Minister are recorded by his office and his associates present at the meeting,” Haim Rubinstein, a spokesperson for the families, said on Thursday in a statement cited on Israeli media.

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“The families participating in the meeting had their phones taken at the entrance,” he said, adding that the leak was a “grave issue that indicates a loss of control”.

His comment came a day after the prime minister’s office blamed one of the family members for the leak.

Israeli media outlet Walla on Thurdsay reported that the prime minister’s office doubled down on blaming the families, saying that it has evidence in the form of a text message from one of their members present at the meeting.

“The girl next to me had a phone, it’s a shame I didn’t tip her off,” the message reads, according to Walla.

In the audio that triggered the controversy, which was aired on Tuesday by Israeli Channel 12, Netanyahu is heard saying that Qatar’s involvement in the release of captives was “problematic”.

He also blamed Qatar for financing Hamas and said he was upset at a decision by the United States to extend the presence of a military base in the Gulf state.

Majed Al-Ansari, the spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, responded to the remarks saying he was “appalled”.

About 240 people were taken captive by Hamas fighters as they launched an unprecedented attack into southern Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,139 people, according to an Al Jazeera tally based on Israeli statistics.

Israel responded with a devastating bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, which has displaced more than 80 percent of the population and reduced much of the territory to rubble. Palestinian officials say at least 25,700 people have been killed and more than 63,000 wounded in the Israeli assault.

Following lengthy negotiations led by Qatar and the US, more than 100 of those captured were freed in late November in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails as Israel and Hamas observed a weeklong truce.

The Gulf state remains involved in talks aimed at securing a new deal for the release of roughly 130 captives still being held by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.

Al-Ansari said Netanyahu’s leaked comments were detrimental to those efforts.

“If the reported remarks are found to be true, the Israeli prime minister would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process, for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritising saving innocent lives, including Israeli hostages,” he said.

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