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Hamas official says “no one has any idea” how many Israeli hostages are still alive

The fate of the remaining 120 hostages in Gaza is crucial to any agreement to end the prolonged and bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas. But a senior Hamas official told CNN that “no one has any idea” how many of them are alive, and that any agreement to release them must include guarantees of a permanent ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

In an interview with CNN Hamas spokesman and political bureau member Osama Hamdan offered insight into the militant group’s stance on the stalled ceasefire talks, an opinion on whether Hamas regrets its decision to attack Israel, given the rising Palestinian death toll, and a comment on the leak earlier this week of messages from his boss in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, the man believed to be the main decision-maker in any peace deal.

The US believes that Hamas holds the key to negotiations. “The negotiation has to stop,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC on Thursday, urging Sinwar to end the war. “He’s relatively safe underground; the people he claims to represent are suffering every day.”

Speaking to CNN in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Hamdan said the latest proposal on the table – an Israeli plan that was publicly announced by US President Joe Biden late last month – did not meet the group’s demands for an end to the war.

Hamdan told CNN that Hamas needed “a clear position from Israel to accept the ceasefire, a complete withdrawal from Gaza, and let the Palestinians determine their future for themselves, the reconstruction, the [levantamento] of the siege… and we are ready to talk about a fair prisoner exchange deal.”

Negotiations on the US-backed proposal have intensified in recent days, but appear to have stalled on Wednesday (12), after Hamas submitted its response to the document, 12 days after first receiving it.

Blinken expressed frustration with what he said was Hamas’ decision to introduce “numerous changes,” describing some of them as going “beyond the positions Hamas had previously taken.”

“Some of the changes are feasible. Others are not,” Blinken said at a news conference in Doha on Wednesday.

The US-backed ceasefire plan, which was approved by the United Nations Security Council on Monday (10), establishes a phased approach. In the first phase, there would be a six-week ceasefire, in which some hostages would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli army would withdraw from populated areas in Gaza. The second phase – a permanent end to the war and Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza – would only be implemented after further negotiations between the two parties.

But Hamdan told CNN that the duration of the ceasefire was a crucial issue for Hamas, which is concerned that Israel has no intention of complying with the second phase of the agreement. The end of hostilities must be permanent, he said, and Israel must withdraw completely from Gaza.

“The Israelis only want a ceasefire for six weeks and then they want to go back to fighting, which I think the Americans, so far, have not been able to convince the Israelis to accept.” [um cessar-fogo permanente],” he said, adding that he believes the US needs to convince Israel to accept a permanent ceasefire as part of the deal.

Israel has not yet publicly committed to the deal, although the White House has repeatedly emphasized that it was an Israeli plan that the administration had accepted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been under pressure to announce his support for the current plan, has repeatedly said the war will not end until Israel eliminates Hamas.

Blinken told NBC that Netanyahu “reconfirmed” to him “that Israel supported this proposal and was ready to say yes” when he saw him a few days ago, and placed the blame for the impasse in negotiations entirely on Hamas.

“Hamas has to demonstrate that it also wants this to end. If you want, we can end this. If you don’t want to, it means you want the war to continue,” Blinken said.

Liability issue

Speaking to CNN In a modest office decorated with a large map of Gaza and a panoramic photo of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Hamdan repeatedly deflected any questions about Hamas’ role in the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. He called the October 7 terrorist attacks, which triggered the current war in Gaza, “a reaction against the occupation.”

The October 7 attack was the deadliest in Israel’s history. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups killed more than 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and also took around 250 people hostage to Gaza.

Israel was quick to retaliate, immediately declaring war on Hamas and launching an intense bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion several weeks later.

This operation had a devastating impact on the Palestinians of Gaza. More than 37,000 people were killed, most of them women and children, according to the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip. It is estimated that around 90% of people living in the territory were displaced by the fighting.

While Gaza authorities do not distinguish between civilian casualties and Hamas fighters, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) previously admitted that the majority of those killed in the operation were civilians.

Asked repeatedly by CNN If Hamas regretted its decision to attack Israel, Hamdan responded by blaming Israel for the situation and saying the attack was “a reaction against the occupation.”

“The one who is responsible for this is [a ocupação israelense]. If you resist the occupation, [eles] they will kill him; if you don’t resist the occupation, [eles] they will also kill you and deport you from your country. So what should we do, just wait?” he said.

Hamdan also dismissed reports that Sinwar suggested the deaths of thousands of Palestinians were “necessary sacrifices” as false.

Sinwar has not been seen in public since the October 7 attacks. He is believed to be hiding in Gaza, somewhere within the network of tunnels that run beneath the strip. He has been designated a terrorist by the US, the European Union, the United Kingdom and other countries.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using civilians in Gaza as human shields, and earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published what it said were leaked messages from Sinwar to other Hamas leaders in which he allegedly expressed an unyielding determination to keep fighting. , regardless of the human cost.

Hamdan told CNN that the messages “were false”.

“These were false messages made by someone who is not Palestinian and were sent to the Wall Street Journal as part of the pressure against Hamas and to provoke the people against the leader,” he said, without providing evidence. “No one can accept the death of the Palestinians, of their own people.”

Destroying Hamas?

When Israel launched its war against Hamas, Netanyahu said the goals were “to destroy Hamas and bring back the hostages held in Gaza.”

But more than eight months later, the goal of completely eliminating the group seems unattainable. Although the IDF has killed some Hamas commanders, the top leadership in Gaza, including Sinwar, continues to escape. And despite the damage caused to its infrastructure, Hamas continues to fire rockets towards Israel, although much more sporadically than at the beginning of the conflict.

American intelligence officials believe Sinwar likely believes Hamas can survive Israel’s attempt to destroy it.

At the same time, Netanyahu is under increasing pressure to reach a deal that guarantees the return of the remaining hostages in Gaza. Israel believes that more than 70 of the more than 100 hostages still in Gaza are alive.

Speaking to CNN , Hamdan said he did not know how many were still alive. “I have no idea about that. Nobody has any idea about this,” he said, claiming – without providing any evidence – that the Israeli operation to free four of the hostages on Saturday resulted in the deaths of three others, including an American citizen.

There are fears that more hostages may be dead than are publicly known. In April, Hamas told international mediators that it was unable to meet Israel’s demand to release 40 of the remaining hostages in the first phase of a deal, including all women as well as sick and elderly men, because it did not have 40 living hostages to match. these criteria for release.

Asked about testimony from a doctor who treated the freed hostages and said they suffered mental and physical abuse and were beaten every hour, Hamdan again blamed Israel for their suffering.

“I believe that if they have mental problems, it is because of what Israel has done in Gaza. Why [ninguém pode] bear what Israel is doing, bombing every day, killing civilians, killing women and children… they saw it [com] their own eyes,” he said, adding that comparing images of the hostages taken before and after their eight months of captivity shows “that they were better off than before” – a claim that is demonstrably false.

Source: CNN Brasil

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