Israel official says more than 1/5 of Gaza hostages dead as ceasefire talks continue News
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Israel official says more than 1/5 of Gaza hostages dead as ceasefire talks continue

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a press conference that 31 of the hostages held by Hamas were dead, more than one fifth of the remaining 136 people who are still held captive in Gaza. The press conference followed a report in the New York Times that detailed a confidential internal review leaked to media saying 32 hostages in Gaza were dead. The confidential review also said that IDF officials were assessing unconfirmed intelligence that 20 more hostages may have died.

Hagari said on Tuesday that the IDF informed families of the dead hostages of the news. The Hostages and Families Forum, an advocacy group formed to bring the hostages home, confirmed that report and told Israeli media that, “Before the article was released, an official message was given to all the families of the abductees by the liaison officers that there is no change in the situation assessment.”

Hamas took more than 200 people hostage in its October 7 attacks on Israel, which also killed more than 1,200 people—mostly civilians. International law experts have said that this, along with rocket attacks targeting civilian areas, constitutes war crimes. Families of October 7 victims filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging genocide, which lead to the ICC Prosecutor’s first ever visit to the region. 

Bringing the hostages home is one of Israel’s stated goals and has been a rallying cry for Israeli citizens and Jewish communities. In November, Hamas released more than 100 hostages as part of a six-day temporary ceasefire, which also saw Israel release more than 200 Palestinian prisoners. At the time, families of the hostages expressed concern about their wellbeing, with the niece of one hostage saying, “There is a great deal that we still don’t know, we don’t know what the physical or mental condition of these people is.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross was supposed to be granted access to the hostages as part of the temporary ceasefire agreement, but Hamas officials denied it. Many in Israel have criticized the Red Cross for not doing enough to ensure the hostages’ wellbeing, and some families have even sued the organization. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder and president of the Israeli civil rights group that filed the lawsuit, said, “The International Red Cross is reliving its mistakes of the Holocaust, when it abandoned the Jewish people in its darkest period in history. We cannot accept this disregard and disrespect for human life, just because they are Jewish.”

The Red Cross has defended its work, stressing its neutrality and the need for all parties to respect humanitarian law:

We implore all organizations and combatants in the region with the capacity, the influence, and the remit to please do whatever possible to deliver immediate relief for the innocent civilians, aid workers and emergency responders suffering from this devastation. As a neutral, humanitarian organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continues to pursue every possible avenue to secure the release of all remaining hostages, calling for urgent, immediate access to all those detained and for all sides to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Israel responded to the Hamas attacks with a brutal war on Gaza that’s killed more than 27,000 people—mostly civilians. Israeli strikes have hit places like medical facilities and refugee camps, and human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes. Palestinian rights groups and President Mahmoud Abbas contend that Israel’s actions amount to genocide, and the International Court of Justice recently ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent a “plausible” genocide in Gaza. Israel denies the allegations, claiming Hamas embeded itself in civilian facilities.

The violence has not been limited to Gaza. Amnesty International recently condemned a spike in unlawful violence in the West Bank, where the UN reports a “rapid deterioration” of human rights. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Research, Advocacy and Policy, said violence in the West Bank reflected an attitude of impunity:

Under the cover of the relentless bombardment and atrocity crimes in Gaza, Israeli forces have unleashed unlawful lethal force against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, carrying out unlawful killings and displaying a chilling disregard for Palestinian lives. These unlawful killings are in blatant violation of international human rights law and are committed with impunity in the context of maintaining Israel’s institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination over Palestinians

The international community has called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages, with world leaders like UN Secretary-General António Guterres previously saying a ceasefire and hostage release was necessary to “end the suffering and avoid a spillover of the conflict.” Israel and Hamas have been engaged in ceasefire negotiations. Earlier this week, Hamas countered Israel’s offer with their own proposal, which Israel rejected. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says talks will continue and progress is being made: “We will work at that relentlessly until we get there.”