The Hamas militant group has claimed that it released two more hostages but Israel refused to accept them. Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, said on Saturday that they had informed Qatar of releasing two more hostages for “humanitarian reasons” but the offer was rejected by Israel.
According to a report by The Times of Israel, the claim was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “We won’t respond to Hamas’s propaganda lies. We will continue to do everything possible to return all the hostages and missing home,” said the office in a statement.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have confirmed that Hamas is holding at least 212 hostages since the unprecedented and brutal attack on October 7. It has accused Hamas of ‘psychological terror’ as concerns grow over the safety of the hostages ahead of an imminent ground operation.
On Friday, Hamas released two American citizens they have been holding captive in Gaza since their October 7 attack. The militant group said in a statement that it was freeing Judith Raanan and her 18-year-old daughter, Natalie, for humanitarian reasons, in an agreement with the Qatari government.
Among the families of the hostages and missing were the Leshem family, the Shem Tov family, the Marciano family, the David family, the Argamani family, the Louk family, the Gilboa family, the Or family, the Samerano family, the Albeg family, the Levi family, and other families.
Families of the hostages have pledged to escalate their pressure campaign on the government, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to permit humanitarian aid into Gaza through Egypt.
The Israel-Hamas war
Meanwhile, as Israel prepares for a sweeping ground operation in the Gaza Strip, it has also vowed to step up its aerial strikes in the besieged Palestinian territory to create the “best conditions” for troops to move in.
“We have to enter the next phase of the war in the best conditions, not according to what anyone tells us. From today, we are increasing the strikes and minimizing the danger,” said IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
Additionally, IDf Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that they should expect surprises prepared by terror groups when they enter the Gaza Strip, in a clear indication of Israel’s next stage of operations.
“We will enter the Gaza Strip. We will begin an operational and professional mission to destroy the Hamas operatives, the Hamas infrastructure, and we will also keep in our minds the images, the scenes and the fallen from Shabbat (Saturday) two weeks ago,” Halevi told the commanders.
Israeli airstrikes also targeted two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank allegedly used by militants, sparking concerns that the conflict will spiral out to other countries in the Middle East.
However, the Israeli military has acknowledged that there are still hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza despite a sweeping evacuation order, which would complicate any ground attack.
On Saturday, 20 trucks of desperately-needed aid including medicine and food were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, the first time anything has gone into the territory since Israel imposed a complete siege two weeks ago.
More than 1,400 people – including civilians and soldiers – have been killed in the Hamas attack on Israel over two weeks ago. On the other hand, more than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry run by Hamas. That includes a disputed number of people who died in a hospital explosion earlier this week.
(with agency inputs)