The families of 199 people have been notified so far that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip after they were abducted during Hamas’s terror onslaught in southern Israel on October 7, the military said Monday.
IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the military has some information on the whereabouts of hostages being held in Gaza.
“We are making valiant efforts to try to understand where the hostages are in Gaza, and we have such information,” Hagari said in response to a question at a press conference.
“We will not carry out an attack that would endanger our people,” he added.
Israelis and foreign nationals — infants, children with special needs, octogenarians with chronic health issues — were dragged by terrorists into Gaza, with their whereabouts largely unknown since.
While the majority are being held by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad claims to be holding 30 hostages of its own, further complicating efforts to bring about their release.
It is unknown how many of those taken are alive.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met with representatives of the families of the captives and vowed to work for the hostages’ return as soon as possible.
“Netanyahu told the families that one of the goals of the war is the return of the captive and missing,” a statement from the families read, after the meeting at an IDF Home Front Command base in Ramle.
Netanyahu had come under particular criticism for failing to meet earlier with the families after US President Joe Biden held a 90-minute call with families of missing Americans on Friday.
While Israel has largely refrained from commenting on the hostages and efforts to bring about their release, indicating that its primary and immediate focus is eradicating Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, the issue has been at the top of the agenda for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he engages in shuttle diplomacy across the region.
On Monday, coordinator of hostages and missing persons Gal Hirsch met for the second time with US Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Steven Gillen.
Fifteen Americans remain unaccounted for since last Saturday’s Hamas assault and some of those individuals are among the hostages.
Among the six countries Blinken has visited over the past several days has been Qatar, which hosts Hamas’s political leadership and which has been holding talks with the terror group regarding the hostages.
Hamas — being represented in the talks by its leader abroad Ismail Haniyeh — initially told Qatar that it was prepared to return women, children and elderly hostages in exchange for Israel releasing 36 female and teenage Palestinian security prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, a diplomatic official told The Times of Israel.
However, the offer was not entertained by Israel, the diplomatic official said, adding that the Qatar-brokered talks are ongoing.
A second source familiar with the negotiations told The Times of Israel that some in Hamas recognize that taking women, children and elderly people hostage has provided Israel more international legitimacy to massively expand its military campaign against the terror group.
Hundreds of people on Saturday joined a vigil outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv started by a man whose wife and three children are being held hostage by terrorists in Gaza.
Hours later, National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi said that there were no active negotiation efforts underway by Israel to repatriate the hostages, saying “there is no way right now to have a negotiation” with the organization.
“Israel will not hold negotiations with an enemy that we have vowed to wipe from the face of the earth,” he said, briefing reporters at the Israel Defense Force’s Tel Aviv headquarters.
His comments prompted fury from the families of the missing, with their spokesman accusing the government of abandoning the hostages.
War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw at least 1,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing over 1,300 people and seizing hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
The vast majority of those killed as gunmen attacked and seized border communities were civilians.
Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”