‘No one has any idea’ how many hostages are still alive, Hamas official says

Hamas politburo member in Beirut Osama Hamdan denies rescued hostages were subjected to abuse in Gaza; claims WSJ report that Sinwar praised Gazan civilian deaths is ‘fake message’

Passersby observe the photos of hostages held in the Gaza Strip that are plastered to the walls of a plaza known as Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2024 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty).
Passersby observe the photos of hostages held in the Gaza Strip that are plastered to the walls of a plaza known as Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2024 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty).

“No one has any idea” how many of the 116 remaining hostages in Gaza who were kidnapped from Israel on October 7 are still alive, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told CNN on Thursday.

“I don’t have any idea about that. No one has any idea about this,” he said, while denying that the four hostages rescued by Israeli forces last weekend had been abused during their more than eight months in the terror group’s captivity.

“I believe if they have mental problems, this is because of what Israel has done in Gaza,” Hamdan told CNN  in Beirut, upon being pressed on the testimony of a doctor who treated the rescued Israelis and said they were beaten “almost every day” and suffered from malnutrition.

The status of the remaining hostages is a key topic in negotiations for a potential deal between Israel and the terror group, which triggered the war on October 7, when thousands of terrorists poured into southern Israel from Gaza, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 251 hostages.

Hamas has refused to provide a list of the hostages still living, and has only sporadically provided signs of life for some captives, mainly in the service of propaganda.

As part of a potential deal, Israeli negotiators have demanded that living hostages be released before dead bodies, while Hamas negotiators have sought deals that would allow them to release an indeterminate number of bodies in place of living captives.

In the interview, Hamdan — who in the past has promoted antisemitic medieval blood libels — called the proposed deal to release Israeli hostages in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinian prisoners a “positive step,” but refused to endorse it.

“We need a clear position from Israel to accept the ceasefire, a complete withdrawal from Gaza, and [to] let the Palestinians determine their future by themselves,” he said.

In November, Hamas released 105 civilian hostages over the course of seven days in exchange for a temporary ceasefire and the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli jails. That lull in fighting collapsed when Hamas began firing rockets into Israel and failed to provide a list of living hostages it intended to release by the deadline.

The terror group has asserted that any further hostage release will come only after Israel agrees to end the war altogether, with Israel withdrawing its troops from Gaza and allowing the terror group to resume its position as the de facto government of the Strip, a demand publicly rejected by Israel.

Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’s politburo, is seen speaking to CNN in Beirut, Lebanon, in a screenshot from this video posted to YouTube on June 14, 2024. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Israeli proposal announced by US President Joe Biden last month is said to have stopped short of the Hamas demand, instead requiring the sides to first agree to a six-week truce, during which some hostages would be released and the sides would hold talks on a permanent ceasefire to begin in phase two of the deal.

Hamas reportedly took issue with the proposal giving Israel the right to resume fighting if the terror group is deemed to not be meeting its commitments.

Biden said Thursday that he does not expect a ceasefire and hostage release deal for Gaza to be reached in the near future, saying Hamas needs to shift its position closer to Israel’s US-backed proposal on the table.

Hamdan also denied a Wall Street Journal report that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has insisted that civilian bloodshed in Gaza is a “necessary sacrifice” that will lead to the liberation of Palestine. The higher the civilian death toll, the more pressure would be put on Israel, Sinwar is reported to have said.

Hamdan called these “fake messages done by someone who is not Palestinian” and sent to the newspaper to incite provoke opposition to Sinwar.

“No one can accept the killing of the Palestinians, of his own people,” Hamdan said.

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar speaks during a rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, in Gaza City, April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Hamas’s health authorities in Gaza claim that over 37,000 people have been killed by Israel since war broke out on October 7.  The toll, which cannot be verified, includes both combatants and civilians. Israel says it has killed about 15,000 terror operatives in Gaza since the start of the war. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and ninety-nine Israeli soldiers and one police officer have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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