Hamas says it offered to release two Israelis captured during its deadly raid but Israel’s government refused to take them. Israel described the claim as “mendacious propaganda”.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, said that the mediator Qatar was told of the group’s intention to release the Israelis on Friday, the same day it freed Americans Judith Tai Ranaan and her daughter Natalie.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“We informed our Qatari brothers yesterday evening that we would be releasing Nourit Yitshaq and Yokhefed Lifshitz for humanitarian reasons and without expecting anything in return. However, the Israeli occupation government refused to accept them,” Obeida said on Telegram on Saturday.
Hamas captured about 210 people during its deadly assault in southern Israel on October 7 and they are being held in unknown locations inside Gaza.
In a brief statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “We will not refer to false propaganda by Hamas. We will continue to act in every way to return all the kidnapped and missing people home.”
Qatar, which helped mediate Friday’s release, had no immediate comment.
In a later statement, Obeida said Hamas was still ready to free the two people on Sunday “using the same procedures” involved in the release of the Americans.
‘Refused to take them’
Hamas spokesman Khaled al-Qaddoumi told Al Jazeera the Israeli government “was not serious” about the release of the captives.
“We have offered to hand over those captives who are in severe humanitarian condition for solely humanitarian reasons. We wanted to hand them over to their families but the government is not serious. Unfortunately, the government of Israel refused to take them.”
Al-Qaddoumi said Israel provided no reason for not accepting the offer.
Those held by Hamas include women, children, the elderly, people from other countries – who have been working for their release – and Israeli soldiers.
Akiva Eldar, an Israeli political analyst, author and journalist, said if Hamas wants to release hostages, it can hand them over to groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, or let them cross into Egypt.
“If it’s not part of a quid pro quo or anything that Israel has to give in return, then it’s very simple – just like they allowed the two American citizens to cross the border with the assistance of the Red Cross,” he noted.
‘Very soon’ hostages will be free
A spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry said the release of the American hostages on Friday came after “many days of continuous communication with all parties”.
Majed al-Ansari, a foreign ministry spokesman, told the German Welt am Sonntag newspaper Qatar is hopeful that all the captives will soon be freed.
“I can’t promise you this will happen today or tomorrow or after tomorrow. But we are taking a path that will very soon lead to release of the hostages, especially civilians,” said al-Ansari.
“We are currently working on an agreement under which all civilian hostages will be initially released.”
The multi-pronged Hamas attack on Israel, dubbed Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and wounded about 3,500 others on October 7.
Israel responded with intense air attacks on Gaza, levelling once-densely populated neighbourhoods and imposing a total blockade on the enclave. Nearly 4,400 people in Gaza have been killed and 13,500 wounded in two weeks of fighting.
With forces massed on the barrier with Gaza, Israel has threatened a ground invasion to “destroy Hamas”.