Nov 27, 2008 2:29 | Updated Nov 27, 2008 17:28
'10-15 Israelis held in Chabad House and Mumbai hotel'
By DAVID HOROVITZ, MATTHEW WAGNER, AND JPOST.COM STAFF
Indian commandos and police were evacuating civilians and cordoning off the area apparently in preparation to storm the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, where a rabbi, his wife and several other Israelis were being held hostage, according to IBN, an Indian news agency.
Chabad spokesman in Israel, Moni Ender, said there were eight Israelis inside the house, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka Holtzberg.
According to a Foreign Ministry estimate, a total of between 10 and 15 Israelis were being held by terrorists at both the Chabad House and the Oberoi Hotel.
Newscasters were calling it the "final assault" on the Nariman House, where Chabad headquarters are located, adjacent to the Leopold Cafe, a major tourist center in Mumbai's Colaba area, which was also attacked Wednesday night.
According to a report by Reuters, the terrorists have expressed their desire to negotiate with the Indian government for the release of the hostages. The government, however, has repeatedly stated that it will not negotiate.
Several senior Indian police and security officers were killed in the joint attack, which caused police to take more cautious measures before storming the Chabad House, said Indian reporters.
Earlier, Reuters reported that one terrorist had been killed by Indian special forces in the Chabad House, but four others still remained barricaded inside, where they were holding off efforts to reach those inside.
Sky News reported that a loud explosion had been heard at the Chabad House. There was no official word as to the cause of the explosion, which could indicate the onset of an attempt to storm the compound.
On Thursday morning, Moshe Holtzberg, the toddler son of the Chabad emissaries, was rushed from the house in the arms of one of the Chabad House's employees, Sandra Samuel.
"I took the child, I just grabbed the baby and ran out," said Samuel, 44, who has worked as a cook for the center for the last five years.
She said that the rabbi and his wife, along with two other unidentified guests, were alive but unconscious.
"Pray that we should hear good news," urged a Chabad spokesman, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, in a telephone conversation with The Jerusalem Post from New York in the early hours of Thursday morning, Israel time.
Shmotkin also said that the gunmen had seized a police vehicle, which allowed them access to the area around the Chabad House.
Joshua Runyan, the news editor of the Chabad.org/news website, told the Post that there had been "several reports that shots were fired in the vicinity of the Chabad House, and unconfirmed reports on CNN of casualties in the Nariman House." Nariman House, Runyan said, was the original name of the Chabad House, which was purchased two years ago.
Runyan, who is currently in Jerusalem, said that a friend of the rabbi's had received an email from Holtzberg, unrelated to the attacks, at around the time of the attacks or shortly before they began, but that there had been no contact with Holtzberg since. "Since then, we've been trying all the numbers," he said.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem confirmed that hostages had been taken in the Chabad House area. The ministry had yet to make contact with some 20 Israelis in the Mumbai area.
Indian news agencies reported that three people were killed in or close to the Chabad House. The dead were not hostages, the reports said.
Phone calls by the Post to the Chabad House and to the Holtzbergs went unanswered late Wednesday night and in the early hours of Thursday morning. Friends of the Holtzbergs placed messages on various Internet sites appealing for information about them.
Israel Radio reported that consulate staff were visiting local hospitals. Runyan said the Chabad House was a popular tourist destination and that "Israelis regularly come by and visit."
In an article on the chabad.org Web site, Runyan wrote that "Chabad-Lubavitch representatives in New York and Israel are working alongside the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the US Consulate in Mumbai and a volunteer team of local residents to ascertain the well being of the Holtzbergs and other Jews in the area."
He added, "People are urged to say Psalms for Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis, and anyone affected by the tragedy."
Elie Leshem and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.