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Report: Hamas cannot produce 40 hostages for ceasefire deal

Each of the hostages held by Hamas were represented. Chabad of the Space &Treasure Coast presented the Israel Unity Menorah unity Parade, followed by a unity ceremony, a Chanukah concert by the Kavana Band, and a Menorah Lighting Ceremony at Chabad.

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Hamas says it does not have 40 hostages to release in exchange for a ceasefire, CNN reported Wednesday.

Until now, at least 98 hostages were still presumed to be alive, with another 34 bodies in Hamas’ custody. 

The report that Hamas cannot produce 40 people matching the proposed criteria for release raises questions about how many of those who were abducted remain alive.

Hopes had been high that a new deal could be reached in talks between Israeli, U.S., Qatar and Hamas representatives in Cairo. Under the proposed terms, Israel would have paused its war in Gaza for six weeks and released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. In exchange, Hamas would have released all the women and all sick and elderly men in its custody. 

But many of the remaining hostages are soldiers who would have been excluded under the terms of the deal. That might explain why Hamas reportedly cannot meet the target number. It’s also possible that some of the hostages are being held by other organizations or that Hamas has lost track of their whereabouts in their efforts to move and hide the captives amid Israel’s ongoing attacks in Gaza.

The Israeli consulate in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An organization representing American families with eight loved ones among the remaining hostages had no comment.

More than 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. A total of 112 hostages have been returned alive to Israel, with 109 of those released by Hamas and three rescued by Israel Defense Forces. In addition, the bodies of 12 hostages, including three killed in an IDF operation in Gaza, have been repatriated. 

Nearly three dozen more hostages are believed to have been killed or died in captivity. The report that Hamas does not have 40 people to free suggests that more may be among the deceased. 

Among those missing are the youngest hostages, Kfir and Ariel Bibas, and their mother, Shiri. Ariel is 4 years old and Kfir’s first birthday would have been in January. Hamas has said that all three were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Israel has not confirmed that claim. The Bibas boys were the last children held by Hamas; all the others were released in prisoner exchanges. 

The other remaining captives range in age from 19 to 83. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of progress in eradicating Hamas and bringing the remaining hostages home have led to widespread protests in Israel and calls for his resignation there. President Joe Biden has also been pressuring him for an immediate ceasefire. 

Another factor that could derail any forthcoming deal was the news that the Israeli military killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. “The enemy believes that by targeting the families of the leaders, it will push them to give up the demands of our people,” Haniyeh said Wednesday. “Anyone who believes that targeting my sons will push Hamas to change its position is delusional.”

Israel’s war in Gaza has killed more than 30,000 people, destroyed half of the enclave’s buildings and caused life-threatening disruptions to supplies of food, water and medical care. Last week, an IDF strike killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen. That attack and the humanitarian crisis led a group of 40 Congressional Democrats and a number of Democratic senators to ask Biden to halt a transfer of new arms to Israel and limit military aid to defensive weapons only.

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This article was originally published on the Forward.

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