The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on Monday clarified that at least 222 people had been taken hostage during their surprise attack on October 7, and their families have been notified of the matter.
IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that the military has notified the kin of 222 hostages that their family members are being held in the conflict-torn Gaza Strip, reported The Times of Israel.
Hagari further informed that the number includes a significant number of foreign nationals, and that it has taken time for them to be identified and for their families to be notified.
When asked whether the ground operation is being delayed to allow more time for attempts to secure the release of further hostages, Hagari said, “We are working in all ways to free the hostages and bring them home.”
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.
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.
Meanwhile, 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.
However, 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.
Israel warns of a prolonged war with Hamas
Meanwhile, the IDF said on Monday that it struck as many as 320 targets belonging to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups in the Gaza Strip. According to Jerusalem Post, the IDF is increasingly forced to contend with anti-tank missile and mortar attacks.
Hagari also informed that the military has carried out strikes to eliminate 20 Hezbollah cells in southern Lebanon since the start of the war. Additionally, the IDF says infantry, artillery, and tank forces struck a number of Hamas terror cells in Gaza, including one planning to carry out a missile attack on the border.
The IDF said on X that it destroyed targets that could endanger the forces being prepared in the Gaza Strip in preparation for a maneuver in (the Gaza Strip) and in the process attacked dozens of rocket launchers and anti-tank positions in the territory of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that the operation in Gaza will take some time, maybe a month or two but in the end “there will be no Hamas”. He also hinted at an imminent ground invasion, saying that before Hamas “meets our tanks and our infantry, they will know the shells from our air force”.
Ahead of an imminent ground operation
This comes as Israel vowed to step up its aerial strikes in the besieged Palestinian territory to create the “best conditions” for troops to move in. 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.
More than 30 Palestinians were killed in an airstrike that hit a residential building in Gaza in another massive attack. According to a report by Palestinian media, the airstrike hit the building in the al-Shuhada area of the Jabalia refugee camp on Monday.
Late Sunday, Hagari announced that a soldier was killed, and three others wounded, during a raid inside Gaza carried out as part of efforts to rescue more than 200 hostages abducted in the October 7 attack. He said the soldiers were hit by an anti-tank missile. It was not immediately known if the soldiers were inside Gaza when they were shot.
Besides, Israeli warplanes struck targets across Gaza, two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank allegedly used by militants, as the 2-week-old war with Hamas threatened to spiral Sunday into a broader conflict.
Israel has traded fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group since the war began, and tensions are soaring in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have battled militants in refugee camps and carried out two airstrikes in recent days.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack. On the other hand, relentless Israeli airstrikes have killed 4,600 people in Gaza, including the disputed toll from a hospital explosion.
(with agency inputs)