US, Israeli officials fear most hostages held by Hamas are dead — report

Wall Street Journal says some captives believed killed in IDF strikes, some died of health issues, others being ‘used as human shields’ around terrorist leaders in Gaza tunnels

Thousands of Israelis take part in a rally in Jerusalem calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza, on April 7, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Thousands of Israelis take part in a rally in Jerusalem calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza, on April 7, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US and Israeli officials fear that most of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas since October 7 have been killed in captivity, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, as talks to secure a hostage release deal and a temporary truce continued in Cairo.

While the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of the 129 remaining hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza, the report said that “Israeli and American officials estimate privately that the number of deaths could be much higher.”

Some US estimates indicate that most of the hostages are already dead, American officials familiar with the intelligence told the paper, while stressing that US information on the hostages is limited and depends in part on Israeli intel.

US officials quoted in the report said that some of the hostages had likely been killed by Israeli strikes on Gaza amid the ongoing war, while others had died of health issues, including injuries suffered during their abduction.

Officials believe hostages who are still alive are being used as human shields surrounding the group’s leadership, hidden deep in Gaza tunnels, the report said.

It came as some reports say Hamas has indicated it is unable to provide 40 living hostages in the category set for initial release under a potential hostage deal — women, children, the elderly, or those requiring medical attention.

The release of other hostages including adult men and captured soldiers is under a separate category.

According to Kan news, Israel has insisted that 40 living hostages must be freed under any first phase, and that Hamas must make up for any shortage in one category with individuals from another.

Palestinian terrorists drive back to the Gaza Strip with the body of Shani Louk, a German-Israeli dual citizen who was murdered at the Supernova music festival on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Ali Mahmud)

According to Channel 12 news, Mossad chief David Barnea, Israel’s top official involved the negotiations, told cabinet ministers on Wednesday that freeing all 133 captives and remains held in Gaza in a single truce agreement would be impossible, and that at best 40 people could be freed in a first phase.

Of the 253 hostages kidnapped during Hamas’s October 7 attacks, in which terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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