Senior Israeli negotiator says dozens of Gaza hostages ‘alive, with certainty’

Top unnamed official warns ‘we cannot leave them there a long time, they will die,’ says all captives need to be released in deal with Hamas before Israel can accept halting the war

Protesters demand early elections and a deal to release hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv on June 15, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Protesters demand early elections and a deal to release hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv on June 15, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

A senior Israeli negotiator told AFP on Monday that dozens of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza are certainly alive and that Israel cannot accept halting the war until all captives are released in a deal.

“Dozens are alive, with certainty,” the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

“We cannot leave them there a long time, they will die,” he said, adding that a vast majority of them were being held by Hamas in Gaza.

The hostages were taken during the terror group’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault. Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the Israel Defense Forces has confirmed dead.

US President Joe Biden last month presented what he said was a three-phase Israeli proposal to end the war in Gaza, which includes a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Biden said the first phase would include a “full and complete ceasefire” lasting six weeks, with Israeli forces withdrawing from “all populated areas of Gaza.”

US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza at the White House’s State Dining Room in Washington, DC, May 31, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

The official said Israel could not end the conflict with Hamas before a hostage deal is signed because the terror group could “breach its commitment… and drag out the negotiations for 10 years” or more.

“We cannot, at this point in time — before signing the agreement — commit to ending the war,” he said. “Because during the first phase, there’s a clause that we hold negotiations about the second phase. The second phase is the release of the men and male soldier hostages.”

The official said the Israeli negotiating team had green-lit the Biden plan, though the government has yet to publicly approve it.

“We expect, and are waiting for, Hamas to say ‘yes,'” the official said.

“In the event we don’t reach an agreement with Hamas, the IDF will continue to fight in the Gaza Strip in a no less intense fashion than it’s fighting now,” he said. “In a different manner, but an intense manner.”

Fighting is ongoing in multiple areas in Gaza, with the IDF announcing on Tuesday that soldiers had eliminated a number of terrorists in battles in the southern city of Rafah and in central Gaza over the past day.

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an image released for publication on June 17, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The negotiator’s comments came as anti-government protests were holding a “week of disruption,” calling for early elections and a deal to free the remaining hostages held in Gaza.

Tens of thousands gathered near the Knesset for a mass rally on Monday evening, with many marching to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem where violent clashes ensued between police and protesters.

Protesters lift flags and placards during an anti-government rally calling for early elections in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 17, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Public pressure on the government to close a deal to free the remaining hostages has been building since Biden presented the latest Israel-backed proposal. However, negotiations appear to remain stalled, with Hamas reportedly seeking to change the terms of the deal by pushing forward a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza into the very initial stages of a phased implementation, as well as insisting that it be a clear end to the war.

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