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Hamas demands 6,000 Palestinians to be released from Israeli prisons in exchange for hostages

According to Hamas officials, over 20 hostages have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. Hamas has previously managed to negotiate the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages, including civilians and soldiers.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Gaza Updated on: October 17, 2023 16:36 IST
Hamas attacks on Israel have killed 1,400 people so far
Image Source : AP Hamas attacks on Israel have killed 1,400 people so far

The Hamas group, which launched a devastating attack on Israel that claimed hundreds of lives, has demanded the release of 6,000 Palestinian men and women from Israeli prisons in exchange for the nearly 200 hostages it kidnapped, according to an official.

On Monday, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) claimed that Hamas and other Palestinian militants are holding 199 hostages in Gaza-- at least 44 higher than previous estimates. Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said that the families have been notified.

According to Khaled Meshaal, the hostages captured by Hamas include high-ranking officials from IDF's Gaza Division that is responsible for patrolling around the Gaza Strip, said Sky News. Another Hamas official told the British media outlet that he does not know how many of those hostages are alive due to heavy bombardment by Israel.

Dr Basem Naim, Hamas's head of political and international relations, said that the group is ready to release hostages when Israeli airstrikes are halted. "I hope that we will have hostages alive at the time the aggression ends because al Qassam Brigade [Hamas's armed wing] announced yesterday that nine of the hostages were killed under Israeli bombardment," he said.

On Friday, Hamas said that at least 13 hostages captured by them have been killed due to Israel's relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The militant group recently released some videos of hostages, including a woman named Mia Schem. 

“Hi, I'm Mia Shem, 21 years old from Shoham. Currently, I'm in Gaza. I returned early Saturday morning from Sderot; I was at a party," the Israeli media quoted her as saying in a video it found on the messaging application, Telegram. Interestingly, the girl was heard saying she was fine and the Hamas militants were taking care of her injured hand. She further pleaded with the Israeli authorities to bring her home.

Why is Hamas taking hostages?

The practice of taking hostages is not a new phenomenon in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, militants of the Palestinian organisation Black September had taken at least nine Israeli hostages, and all of them were killed in a failed rescue attempt.

However, it is worth noticing that no Palestinian militant group has managed to take so many hostages in history. The recent attack on Israel is the deadliest operation launched by Hamas. The fate of the nearly 200 hostages hangs in balance as Israel prepares for a ground invasion in the Gaza Strip.

Hostages are generally taken to force the other side to fulfill certain obligations. While many countries have a policy of 'no negotiations' with terrorists, they are known to have engaged in backdoor negotiations in moments of crises. The hostages are basically used as bargaining chips in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

In this regard, Israel is known to have made huge compromises to ensure the release of captured Israelis. In 2011, Hamas managed to negotiate the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years.

Prior to that, Israel was forced to release over 4,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for six Israeli captives held by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1983. This trend continued in 1985, 2004 and 2008, making Israel vulnerable to the demands of militant organisations across the border.

This time, the people taken hostage by Hamas militants include foreigners, which is likely to pull in other countries for negotiations. Pressure is building on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden to ensure that the hostages are safely released.

What is Israel doing now?

Amid the unprecedented war against Hamas, the US has confirmed that President Joe Biden will travel to the war-torn nation and then move to Jordan on Wednesday. The announcement came barely a minute ago by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after over seven hours of talks with Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials.

Shortly after in Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also announced that Biden would also go to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

After meeting Netanyahu, Blinken announced that the former has agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza, including the possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm’s way.

The brutal attack by Hamas on Israel claimed the lives of at least 1,400 people. Israeli strikes have killed at least 2,778 people and wounded 9,700 others in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry.

(with agency inputs) 

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