The militant group may attempt to use the Israelis it kidnapped as negotiating chips to secure the release of Palestinian inmates, according to a prominent Hamas leader who said on Monday that the organization “has what it needs” to free all Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.
The non-Israelis were taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 and include Israelis as well as people from other countries. Shortly after Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal made the comments, the group’s armed wing declared the non-Israelis were “guests” who would be freed “when circumstances allow.”
After rampaging through southern Israeli villages and military bases and killing over 1,300 people, Hamas gunmen abducted a large number of captives. Israel’s military claims that the hostage-takers are holding 199 people in Gaza. According to Hamas, it has 200–250.
According to Meshaal, a former Hamas leader who now runs the organization’s diaspora office in Doha, Hamas “has what it needs to empty the prisons of all prisoners,” as other factions have long demanded the release of the approximately 6,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.
Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been detained for five years, was freed in 2011 after Israel exchanged hundreds of Palestinian detainees. With so many people being detained, such an exchange—which at the time was criticized by some Israelis as being overly lopsided—seems like an impossibly difficult deal.
Israel, which has declared it will take action to release the hostages while destroying Hamas, has devastated Gaza with strikes that have killed hundreds of Palestinians.
It is thought that the prisoners include citizens of Germany and Thailand. Other nations have reported the disappearance of their citizens. It is also thought that Israelis who have dual citizenship have been abducted in nations like the United States.
A Franco-Israeli woman who was taken hostage in last week’s incident made a statement in a video that Hamas posted late on Monday. Her family was one among a number of people who pleaded with the president of France to release their lost loved ones.
In a video message, Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, claimed that the organization has “a group of detainees of different nationalities, these are our guests, and we seek to protect them.”
He continued: “We will release detainees of different nationalities when circumstances on the ground allow.” He said nothing further.
According to Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of the Hamas leadership, “foreign prisoners cannot be released due to the ongoing Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.”