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The Israel-Hamas War: Operation Iron Sword
The Hostages

(October 7 , 2023 - Present)
By Mitchell Bard

Hamas Takes Hostages
A Deadly Error
Pause for Hostage Release
Hamas Reneges on Deal
Learning From the Hostages
Negotiation Stalemate

Hamas Takes Hostages

Table in “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv
with empty seats for each hostage

In addition to the horrific murders of October 7, 2023, Israelis were also appalled to learn that more than 100 hostages (later revised to 242, including 33 children) were taken by the Hamas terrorists, most believed to be civilians, including a Holocaust survivor, elderly people, women, six Bedouins, and 32 children as young as nine months. At least 12 Americans and nationals from several other countries were believed to be among those kidnapped. A video showed four Israelis taken hostage by Hamas were killed soon after being taken captive.

The IDF recovered a manual from one of the terrorists with instructions on how to handle the Israelis they captured. It said “those expected to resist and those that pose a threat” should be killed. The rest should be blindfolded, then “reassured,” to keep them obedient. “Use them as human shields,” it says, and use “electric shocks” to control them. Kids were to be separated from their parents. The directions in the manual indicate the terrorists expected to be forced into a standoff with Israeli troops and advised them to collect supplies to survive a siege.

Hamas official Khaled Meshaal said the group has kidnapped enough Israeli soldiers to negotiate the release of all the Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Captured terrorists revealed during interrogations that they had been ordered to kidnap civilians, including the elderly and children. One said, “Whoever brings a hostage back [to Gaza] gets $10,000 and an apartment.”

President Joe Biden said he was sending experts to help secure the release of hostages. Reportedly, these included FBI negotiators and special forces hostage rescue teams. “We’re working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel, including deploying experts to advise on assist and recovery.” He added, “Folks, there’s a lot we’re doing, I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home.”

The United States, Egypt, and Qatar were reportedly seeking to facilitate an agreement to exchange Israeli women and children for women in Israeli jails. Reuters said that Qatar was trying to arrange the exchange of the women and children for 36 Palestinian women and children held by Israel. Israel denied the reports.

Hamas official Ali Baraka said that any hostage exchange should include Hamas prisoners in Europe.

As one would expect, the families of the missing in Israel beseeched public officials for aid for their loved ones.

The number of hostages seriously complicates the Israeli response. Hamas hides them and uses them as human shields to discourage attacks on their positions. Without knowing their location, Israel could inadvertently harm them in airstrikes. Even if the hostages can be found, special forces are likely to face heavily armed terrorists who might kill their captives, or they might be injured in the crossfire.

In addition, a Hamas spokesperson threatened to kill Israeli hostages if Israeli airstrikes hit civilian homes in Gaza without warning.

On October 20, 2023, two American hostages, Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, were released. Hamas acknowledged that Qatar played a role in negotiating their release.

Two more female hostages were released three days later. Nurit Yitzhak (79) and Yocheved Lifshitz (85) from Kibbutz Nir Oz, were set free for “compelling humanitarian and health reasons.” Their husbands remained captive, so it was understandable the two women would be reticent about saying too much publicly about their treatment. Lifshitz did say she had been “through hell,” was beaten, and held in a “spider’s web” of underground tunnels in Gaza. She also related that a doctor had treated injured hostages because “they were scared we’d become sick.”

Though happy for their release, Israeli officials were concerned about negotiations for only dual citizens. “Israel will not be a party to a ‘selection’ for holders of foreign passports for release,” an allusion to the process used by the Nazis to decide which Jews would live and die in some death camps.

Still, Israel hoped delaying its ground offensive would result in progress in hostage negotiations. National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi called Qatar’s efforts to secure the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas “crucial.”

Hamas claimed that some 50 hostages were killed in Israeli airstrikes. Israel did not confirm this.

On October 30, Israeli forces rescued Pvt. Ori Megidish.

A Deadly Error

A devastating accident occurred on December 15 when IDF soldiers mistakenly killed three hostages. According to early reports, the men had either escaped or been abandoned. They came out of a building without shirts, apparently to show the soldiers they did not have any explosives on their bodies. One also carried a white cloth. The IDF said the soldiers did not correctly follow the rules of engagement. The IDF chief of staff accepted responsibility while explaining the challenges of urban warfare and the need for soldiers to be alert for ambushes and booby traps. The entire nation was heartbroken by the news, and families of other hostages saw the incident as another reason to accelerate efforts to negotiate their release. Days earlier, they were infuriated by news that the government would not allow the Mossad chief to return to Qatar for talks. After the hostages, he reportedly went to meet with Qatari officials to resume negotiations.

The families, who don’t know if their loved ones are dead or alive, are in agony and, understandably, want the government to do everything possible to ensure their safe returns. They want to accept Hamas’s demands that all terrorists in Israeli jails be released in exchange for the hostages. The government has given no indication it is willing to make such a deal, though, in the past, it has.

The Pentagon revealed that U.S. special operations forces and drones are in Israel to help Israel “identify hostages, including American hostages.” The New York Times said other Western nations had also moved special forces closer to Israel to help with possible rescue or evacuation operations.

On November 9, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) released a video of an elderly woman and young boy it said they were holding and were prepared to release.

Chairs and gifts for missing children in “Hostage Square”

Late in the evening of November 20, the Israeli cabinet agreed to a deal for the release of 30 children, eight mothers, and 12 other women over four days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged not to accept a ceasefire unless all the hostages were released, but under pressure from the families and the United States, he backed down. According to the deal, Israel would release three Palestinian prisoners for every hostage, a total of 150 female and young adults. Their names were to be published so members of the public would have an opportunity to object to freeing a particular inmate responsible for a crime against them. Israel said it would increase the amount of humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza, halt its ground operations, and suspend aerial surveillance so long as Hamas lived up to the bargain, with ten hostages released each day. Hamas agreed to allow the Red Cross to visit hostages and bring them medicine.

Netanyahu credited President Biden for his involvement, which he said resulted in more hostages being released with fewer Israeli concessions. In previous days, Biden had been pressuring the Qataris, the principal mediaries, to work harder to make a deal.

Netanyahu promised to resume the war after the hostages were brought home, but there was an intimation that so long as Hamas continued releasing captives, Israel would hold its fire. While everyone understood the pressure on him to find an answer for the families, fears were also expressed that the ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup, move, and set more boobytraps. These concerns were the reason Netanyahu had opposed a truce.

Pause for Hostage Release

The ceasefire went into effect at 7:00 a.m. GMT on November 24. Fifteen minutes later, a rocket was launched from Gaza and intercepted by Iron Dome. Israel did not respond. The first 13 hostages were released at 4:00 p.m. Israel then set 39 Palestinian prisoners free. Ten Thai and one Filipino captive were let go after the Thai government negotiated a deal with Iranian mediation.

Netanyahu’s office claimed that Israel had negotiated the inclusion of a clause in the hostage deal for the ICRC to visit all of the remaining hostages; however, the ICRC said it was unaware of this, and Hamas insisted no visits would be allowed.

Hamas delayed the release of the second batch of hostages, making false claims about Israel failing to comply with the terms of the agreement. Hamas said the agreed number of aid trucks had not been allowed into Gaza and objected to Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners who were near the end of their sentences. Representatives from Qatar took the unprecedented step of flying to Israel to pressure Hamas to fulfill its commitment. The U.S., through Qatar and Egypt, also pressed Hamas to act. Israel threatened to resume fighting if the hostages were not released by midnight. Near the deadline, 13 Israelis and four Thai nationals were released, including seven Israeli children ranging in age from 3 to 16 and six Israeli women ranging in age from 18 to 67.

Among those freed was 9-year-old Emily Hand, an Israeli-Irish girl who was initially believed to have been killed by Hamas. The Irish Prime Minister angered Israelis when he said, “An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen tweeted: “Emily Hand was not ‘lost,’ she was kidnapped by a terror organization worse than ISIS that murdered her stepmother. Emily and more than 30 other Israeli children were taken hostage by Hamas, and you @LeoVaradkar are trying to legitimize and normalize terror. Shame on you!”

On the third day of the ceasefire, Hamas released nine children, four women, four Thai workers, and one Russian-Israeli, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin had demanded be freed. The children included Israeli-American Abigail Irdan, who had just turned four and whose parents were killed in front of her on October 7. Elma Avraham, 84, was airlifted directly to Soroka Hospital and was reportedly in serious condition.

President Biden expressed joy at Irdan’s release, but 10 Americans remained unaccounted for. At least two were believed to be hostages.

Israel released 39 convicted Palestinian women and minors from prison and allowed 200 trucks to transport humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

One of many teddy bears placed on benches
in Tel Aviv representing hostages

Families reunited with those released said they had been kept underground in tunnels for their entire captivity, and their eyes had to adjust to sunlight. Some slept on chairs pushed together. Food was also scarce; they were fed limited rice and bread and returned malnourished. Most captives did not know the fate of other family members, some of whom were killed on October 7. Irdan, for example, did not know she was now an orphan. Others reportedly could listen to Hebrew language radio and heard that their relatives had died in the Hamas attack.

One female hostage whose arm was injured said a veterinarian treated her. Two brothers, 12 and 16, said they were branded so that if they escaped, they could be identified. Relatives of 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi said he was beaten, forced to watch video footage of atrocities Hamas committed on October 7, and threatened with guns along with other children when they cried. The children were forbidden to make noise; all they could do to pass the time in captivity was to draw a little and play with cards. Emily Hand, 9, returned with a head full of lice and spoke only in whispers.

The Russian Israeli, Roni Kariboy, said the building where he was being held was bombed and collapsed. He escaped but was captured by Gaza civilians, who turned him over to Hamas.

One of the captives said she and other hostages were taken to Khan Yunis, and after an hour’s walk, they entered a tunnel and walked two more hours until they reached a large hall where they met a terrorist who introduced himself in Hebrew. “Hello, I am Yahya Sinwar,” he said. “You are the safest here. Nothing will happen to you.” Then he left. The hostages probably were unaware that Sinwar was the leader of Hamas.

Biden said his goal is “to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief to those in need in Gaza.” In response, Netanyahu acknowledged, “There is a plan that says it is possible to free, every extra day, another ten hostages. That is welcome. In the same breath, I also told the president we will return, with our full might, to achieve our objectives: Hamas’s annihilation, and ensure that Gaza not revert to being what it was, and of course, to free all of our hostages.”

After the first three days of the ceasefire, 18 children and 43 women were still believed to be hostages. Hamas was said to be unaware of the location of all the remaining captives. Israel and Hamas were arguing over the last group to be released and accusing each other of bad faith. Israel said Hamas had violated the agreement to release children and their mothers together after 13-year-old Hila Rotem was freed without her mother.

The asymmetry of the exchanges is reflected not only in the 3 to 1 ratio of prisoners to hostages released but also in the fact that the Palestinians have all been convicted or charged with violent crimes while the Israelis are all innocent civilians. The Palestinians are teenagers, most older than 16, while Jewish captives are as young as ten months old.

What was initially set to be the final exchange was threatened when Hamas broke the ceasefire, attacking IDF troops along a beach road in northern Gaza and attaching an explosive device to an Israeli vehicle near the Rantisi Hospital. Israel did not immediately retaliate, and 11 hostages were released – nine children and two mothers. Still, the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his 4-year-old brother, and their parents, Yarden and Shiri, remained captive.

The IDF also announced that three of the soldiers abducted on October 7 were dead. Israel said it would not extend the ceasefire beyond the two additional days agreed to the day before. The ground campaign would resume after the exchange on November 28.

On November 29, Hamas released ten hostages, including one American. Two Russian Israelis were freed separately at Putin’s request. The following day, only eight Israelis were let go in violation of the agreement that ten would be released each day to maintain the pause in fighting. Hamas claimed the two Russians from the day before should be counted.

Hamas Reneges on Deal

Talks broke down when Hamas offered to release only seven hostages and three bodies. Israel rejected the idea of exchanging live prisoners for hostages’ bodies. Then, when Hamas failed to produce a list of hostages it was prepared to release by the deadline on December 1 and renewed rocket attacks on southern Israel, the ceasefire ended, and Israel resumed its campaign.

i24 News reported that before the ceasefire ended, 105 hostages, 81 Israelis, 23 Thais, and one Filipino had been freed. An additional Israeli thought to have been kidnapped was found dead on December 1. Another hostage was reported dead on December 9. Hamas claimed the youngest hostage, a 10-month-old infant, was killed along with his four-year-old brother and their mother. Later, it said it would release the family but violated the truce that day, and their fate is unknown.

Qatar and Egypt worked on an agreement to end the war by arranging an exchange of all the hostages for thousands of Palestinian terrorists, exiling Hamas leaders the way the PLO was allowed to leave Lebanon in 1982, with an Israeli promise not to assassinate them. Gaza would be demilitarized, but it was unclear who the governing authority would be. Israel showed no interest in this idea, and it was rejected by Sinwar as well. Israel has also said it would not accept Hamas’s demands to end the war, release all Palestinian prisoners, and withdraw its troops as a precondition for negotiations. Netanyahu said, “If we agree to this, then our warriors fell in vain. If we agree to this, we won’t be able to ensure the security of our citizens.” Nevertheless, the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar were reportedly working on a deal in hopes of ending the war.

Learning From the Hostages

As the released hostages began to recover from their ordeal, more information became public about their condition and treatment while captive. One revelation was that Hamas gave hostages tranquilizers to make them appear to be in good spirits when their release was filmed. Most of the hostages lost as much as 20% of their body weight from malnutrition. Those with health problems did not receive the medication they needed.

Danielle Aloni (44), her daughter Emilia (6), her sister, brother-in-law, and their twin three-year-old daughters were forced out of their home on Kibbutz Nir Oz when it was set on fire. She left a voice message for her family: “They are burning our home, terrorists have come in, they tried to shoot us. We are being burned in the home. If we go out they will shoot us.”

When they emerged from their home, they were put in a trailer with others taken captive. The families became separated, and Aloni was left with her daughter and niece, Emma. She said when they crossed into Gaza, crowds of civilians began beating the Israelis. Once in Gaza, a terrorist pulled Emma away, and Danielle and Emilia were taken into the tunnels for three days before being taken to an apartment for 13 days. They returned to the tunnels after Israel began bombing the area. She saw other hostages who were injured but received no medical treatment. At one point, she and two other hostages were forced to make a propaganda video. When they were finally released after 49 days, she said crowds attacked the Red Cross vehicle they rode in. The rest of her family remained captive.

 Itay Regev, a 19-year-old freed in the hostage exchange, recalled when he arrived in Gaza, he was paraded in front of laughing and cheering Gazans while “the terrorists started shouting and screaming and celebrating. It was like a big party.” He was taken to a hospital where a doctor removed a bullet from his leg without anesthesia while the kidnappers threatened to kill him if he made noise. Afterward, he was moved, disguised as a woman in a burqa and as a corpse. Kept in a locked room with no sunlight, he was told that Israeli airstrikes were killing hostages.

Regev’s sister Maya (21) was also shot fleeing from the Nova festival. She underwent surgery to reattach her leg, but it was done incorrectly and left her with it angled in the wrong way, making it difficult for her to walk.

Many hostages were reluctant to speak about their ordeals for fear of endangering the Israelis still in captivity. One Thai did speak about how he and other Thais were beaten. He said that the Israelis they were with were singled out for especially brutal treatment, including being whipped with electrical wires. They were also interrogated to learn about their military service and that of the other hostages. 

On December 8, Israel confirmed that two civilians believed to have been taken hostage were identified among those killed on October 7. The bodies of two more hostages were recovered on December 12.

Following a phone call between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister demanded the release of hostages in telephone calls on December 10-11 with Hamas and other Palestinian factions. It was unclear whether Russia was seeking the release of all the hostages or any Russian nationals.

After Hamas violated the ceasefire, concern grew for the welfare of the hostages. Those who were released began to tell harrowing tales of abuse and lack of food and medical attention. Hamas did not allow Red Cross visits, and as the IDF campaign continued, several hostages were found to have died or been killed in captivity.

On December 13, President Biden held an extraordinary meeting at the White House for nearly two hours with the 13 family members of eight Americans held hostage. Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of 35-year-old Israeli-American Sagui Dekel-Chen, said afterward, “I think we all came away feeling that as families of hostages, of American-Israeli hostages, which are eight out of a total of 138 hostages, felt that — we felt before, and we were only reinforced in seeing and believing that we could have no better friend, in Washington or in the White House, than President Biden himself and his administration.”

In the ongoing psychological war, Hamas continued to disseminate videos of hostages. In mid-January, a video showed three hostages, two of whom were believed to be dead.

In April 2024, another hostage spoke about her captivity. Noga Weiss, 18, was taken from her home in Kibbutz Be’eri and released after 50 days. Her father was killed on October 7, and his body was taken to Gaza. Noga said when she arrived in Gaza, thousands of Palestinians, including children, cheered and tried to hit her inside the vehicle she was traveling in. She was shuffled to different homes and was forced to wear a hijab so she could not be identified as a hostage.

She revealed that one of her Hamas tormentors said she would stay in Gaza forever. He bought her a ring and said they would get married and have children together. 

“He told me, ‘Everyone will be released, but you will stay here with me and have my children.’”

Asked how she responded, Noga said, “I pretended to laugh so he wouldn’t shoot me in the head.”

Negotiation Stalemate

On January 16, 2024, Israel and Hamas reached a deal, brokered by Qatar and France, to allow for medication to be delivered to Israeli hostages in return for the delivery of more medicine and aid to Palestinian civilians. According to the arrangement, Gazans were to receive 1,000 boxes of medicine for every one provided to the hostages. Hamas also had demanded that Israel be prevented from inspecting the aid delivery, but after right-wing members of the government objected, Netanyahu said they would be checked. Israel has no way to ensure the hostages get the medication as Hamas still refused to allow the Red Cross to visit them.

In a meeting with hostage families on January 22, Netanyahu said Israel, not Hamas, had made an offer to free the hostages. Israeli news reported the Israeli proposal called for the remaining women and elderly hostages to be released first, followed by young men and then soldiers, along with the bodies of killed hostages. In exchange, Israel would release some Palestinian prisoners, pause fighting for 30 days, withdraw forces from the main population centers, and allow the gradual return of Palestinians to the north.

Negotiations continued with different formulas for trading hostages for Palestinian prisoners during a ceasefire, but Hamas rejected every proposal, insisting that Israel first remove all its troops from Gaza, agree to a permanent ceasefire, and release most, if not all, of the security prisoners in Israeli jails. As desperately as Israel wanted the hostages back, the government would not agree to any deal that would inhibit its ability to crush Hamas and ensure it could not govern or threaten Israeli border communities. Officials maintained that continuing the military campaign was necessary to pressure Hamas to accept a deal.

“Surrender to Hamas’s delusional demands, that we’ve just heard, not only would not bring about the freedom of the hostages, but it would only invite an additional slaughter; it would invite disaster for Israel that no Israeli citizens want,” Netanyahu said on February 7, 2024.

Hostage families continued to pressure the government to do anything to win the release of their loved ones. Divisions also were reported within the war cabinet, with some members arguing that freeing the hostages must take priority over fighting Hamas.

As the military campaign continued, the bodies of several hostages were recovered. On January 3, 2024, the IDF confirmed that one hostage, Sahur Baruch, was killed during a failed rescue attempt. Hamas still held his body.

In early February came the grim news that of the 136 people still known to be hostages, more than 30, and perhaps as many as 50 were dead. 

Hamas was believed to hold most of the hostages; PIJ and crime organizations held the rest. The remaining hostages include 20 women, two minors, 10 people aged 75 or older, and 11 foreign citizens. Including Israelis, hostages have citizenship from 21 countries, including six from the United States.

The United States and the UK have supported the effort to locate the hostages using unarmed drone flights over Gaza. The possibility of a rescue, however, appeared less and less likely as time went on, in part because of the belief that the hostages were being used as shields. It was reported, for example, that Israel knew where Sinwar was hiding but couldn't get to him because he surrounded himself with hostages.

On February 11, a dramatic rescue operation carried out by Israeli special forces rescued two hostages who were being held in a building rather than a tunnel. The two men, ages 61 and 70, were in good condition. The joy of their return was tempered by the knowledge that 134 remained in captivity.

Some 100 relatives of hostages traveled to the Hague on February 14, 2024, to submit charges of kidnapping, sexual violence, torture, and other crimes to the International Criminal Court.

The U.S. continued to push for a deal that would end the war. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. was “looking for a temporary pause as part of the hostage deal, and then to build on that into something more enduring.”

Negotiations continued but showed no signs of progress as Hamas continued to make unacceptable demands for Israel to withdraw from Gaza and release thousands of prisoners.

Israeli forces discovered unopened packages of medications with the names of hostages in the Nasser Hospital in late February, a month after the medications were supposed to be delivered. Qatar subsequently said it received confirmation from Hamas that medications were being distributed to the hostages. Israel has no way to verify the claim.

On March 5, President Biden called for a ceasefire before Ramadan, knowing that Israel has said it will begin its ground offensive in Rafah if one is not secured. The administration said Israel had accepted conditions proposed by the United States, Egypt, and Qatar and that the ball was in Hamas’s court.

Hamas continued to make demands Israel considered unreasonable, and Ramadan began without any progress in the negotiations. Despite Hamas calling for support from Palestinians during the holiday and marching on the Temple Mount, the first week passed peacefully in Jerusalem.

Hersh Goldberg

Families of the hostages and their supporters continued to protest and urge the government to reach a deal. The United States and other foreign governments also pressured Israel because of their desire to see a ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and the war to end. Israel, however, remained adamant it would not accept Hamas’s demands to withdraw its forces, end the war, and release hundreds of prisoners, including murderers serving life sentences.

After more than six months, Hamas continued to refuse to reveal the fate of any of the hostages, one of Israel’s demands. Israel did determine that Hamas was holding the bodies of more people who died on October 7. Soldiers recovered the body of one hostage from Kibbutz Nir Oz after receiving information from the interrogation of terrorists. The number believed captive was reduced to 133, including five Americans, with fewer than 100 thought to still be alive. The number could be smaller as Hamas has said for propaganda purposes that 70 died in Israeli attacks. In negotiations for the release of 40 hostages, Hamas said it only had 20, raising alarms about how many were still alive. Another Hamas official, however, said that information was incorrect and claimed 30 IDF officers were being held in secure places.

In late April, Hamas released a propaganda video showing Hersh Goldberg. It was the first sign of life since a video of him being kidnapped with part of his arm missing. The video, which the family agreed to release to the public, further enflamed passions in Israel for a deal to bring all the hostages home after more than 200 days of captivity. Negotiations were ongoing, with Israel reportedly prepared to accept as few as 20 hostages in a prisoner exchange. Hamas, however, was sticking to its demand for an end to the war and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

President Biden and Abigail Idan

In Washington, President Biden met with four-year-old Abigal Idan and her family. Abigail, an American citizen, saw her parents killed in front of her before being taken hostage. She was released during the ceasefire. “Our time together yesterday was a reminder of the work we have in front of us to secure the release of all remaining hostages,” he said.

The following day, Biden and the leaders of 17 other countries released a joint statement calling for the immediate release of the hostages.

At the end of April, Israel made what Secretary Blinken called an “extraordinarily generous” proposal to pause the fighting in Gaza and release hostages. “The only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas,” he said. Reportedly, one of the concessions Israel made was to ask for only 33 hostages instead of 40 in the first phase of the agreement. This may be because fewer hostages are still alive. Israel also offered a 40-day ceasefire and the release of perhaps thousands of prisoners.

The proposal has caused a rift in the government, with far-right members threatening to bring down the government if the invasion of Rafah is canceled. With the support of other ministers, Netanyahu has prioritized reaching a hostage deal. Nevertheless, he reiterated, “The idea that we stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and eliminate the Hamas battalions there – with or without a deal, in order to achieve absolute victory.”

Meanwhile, to increase the psychological pressure and torment on Israelis, Hamas released new videos with three hostages reading coerced scripts and calling on their government to make a deal.

Another hostage was declared dead, leaving 128 in captivity, including the bodies of at least 35 as of May 3, 2024.

Hamas continued to insist that Israel end the war and withdraw completely from Gaza in hostage negotiations, which was a rejection of the deal Israel was prepared to accept. Consequently, Israel began issuing evacuation warnings to residents of Rafah on May 6 in anticipation of a ground operation.

After entering Rafah, the IDF recovered additional bodies of hostages, and the official number of dead was put at 43 as of May 17.

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