Zehava Dahan behind place settings for relatives of her best friend in Israel who were taken hostage by Hamas, part of a public Shabbat dinner-themed installation in front of San Francisco City Hall, Nov. 10, 2023. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)
Zehava Dahan behind place settings for relatives of her best friend in Israel who were taken hostage by Hamas, part of a public Shabbat dinner-themed installation in front of San Francisco City Hall, Nov. 10, 2023. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

Hamas says it cannot produce total of 40 hostages needed to meet criteria for cease-fire deal

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Hamas says it does not have 40 hostages who meet the proposed criteria for releasing captives in exchange for a cease-fire, CNN reported Wednesday.

At least 98 hostages are presumed to be alive. But many of them are soldiers who would have been excluded under the original proposed terms of the deal, which called for releasing women, including female soldiers, along with men age 50 and older, and younger men in poor health.

Israel wants Hamas to include hostages from other categories — soldiers or younger men — to reach the target number, according to Axios.

In return, Israel would free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and pause its war in Gaza for six weeks — a one-day pause for every freed hostage.

More than 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. A total of 112 hostages have been returned alive to Israel, with 109 of those released by Hamas and three rescued by the Israel Defense Forces. In addition, the bodies of 12 hostages, including three killed in an IDF operation in Gaza, have been repatriated.

Nearly three dozen more hostages are believed to have been killed or died in captivity. It was unclear, from Hamas’ claim that they do not have 40 hostages meeting the criteria for the prisoner exchange, whether the number of deceased hostages might be even higher.

Among those missing are the youngest hostages, Kfir and Ariel Bibas, and their mother, Shiri. Ariel is 4 years old and Kfir’s first birthday would have been in January. Hamas has said that all three were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Israel has not confirmed that claim. The Bibas boys were the last children held by Hamas; all the others were released in earlier prisoner exchanges. 

The other remaining captives range in age from 19 to 83. 

Before doubts were raised about Hamas’ ability to reach the target number, hopes had been high that the deal could be reached in talks between Israeli, U.S., Qatari and Hamas representatives in Cairo.

Another factor that could derail any forthcoming deal was the news that the Israeli military killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. “The enemy believes that by targeting the families of the leaders, it will push them to give up the demands of our people,” Haniyeh said Wednesday. “Anyone who believes that targeting my sons will push Hamas to change its position is delusional.”

The Israeli consulate in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An organization representing American families with eight loved ones among the remaining hostages had no comment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of progress in eradicating Hamas and bringing the remaining hostages home have led to widespread protests in Israel and calls for his resignation there. President Joe Biden has also been pressuring him for an immediate cease-fire. 

Israel’s war in Gaza has killed more than 30,000 people, destroyed half of the enclave’s buildings and caused life-threatening disruptions to supplies of food, water and medical care. Last week, an IDF strike killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen. That attack and the humanitarian crisis led a group of 40 Congressional Democrats and a number of Democratic senators to ask Biden to halt a transfer of new arms to Israel and limit military aid to defensive weapons only.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Beth Harpaz
Beth Harpaz

Beth Harpaz is a reporter for the Forward. She previously worked for the Associated Press, first covering breaking news and politics, then as AP Travel editor. Follow her @literarydj or email [email protected].