Israel’s chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that 31 of the remaining hostages held in Gaza were pronounced dead.
“We have informed 31 families that their captured loved ones are no longer among the living and that we have pronounced them dead,” he told a regular media briefing.
Israel previously said 136 hostages were still being held in Gaza after 110 were released during the only pause in fighting agreed so far in the current war against Hamas; that exchange happened in November, when Israel in turn released 240 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been pushing for progress on a ceasefire-for-hostages deal and met Tuesday with leaders of Egypt and Qatar — key U.S. allies who often serve as mediators between Israel and Hamas.
Qatar’s prime minister said Thursday that Hamas gave a “generally positive” answer to the latest plan for a ceasefire in Gaza, but the Palestinian militant group said it still seeks “a comprehensive and complete” ceasefire to end “the aggression against our people.” Israel has ruled out the kind of permanent ceasefire sought by Hamas.
The White House on Tuesday indicated there is still “no finality” on Hamas’s position on the proposal to free remaining Israeli hostages for an extended pause in fighting.
“I would say that the negotiating effort is still ongoing,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. “We aren’t at a place where we have finality on it.”
Kirby also suggested that an ongoing impasse with House Republicans over a $118 billion supplemental bill that would include funding for Ukraine, Israel and border security could have an impact on Israel’s defence.
“We know that air defence capabilities are a key critical need for the Israelis as rockets continue to get launched against them and targets in Israel and they have expended quite a bit of air defence munition,” Kirby said. “We have got to do more to help replenish their stocks.”
‘Some movement’ on deal, Biden says
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday acknowledged that Hamas has responded to the proposal to release the remaining hostages held in Gaza in return for an extended pause in fighting.
“There’s some movement, there has been a response from Hamas,” Biden said when asked by reporters about a potential ceasefire deal. “But it seems to be a little over the top. We’re not sure where it is. There’s continuing negotiations.”
This is Blinken’s fifth visit to the Middle East since the war in Gaza broke out following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks, during which about 1,200 people were killed and about 250 taken hostage.
Israel’s offensive has laid waste to much of the densely populated Gaza Strip and killed 27,478 Palestinians, according to health officials in the territory. Rights groups have accused Israel of using disproportionate force.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people is now crammed into the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt and surrounding areas, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Tuesday.
A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving and 85 per cent of the population has been driven from their homes, with hundreds of thousands surviving in makeshift tent camps.
Israeli protesters blocking aid to Gaza
Israeli protesters have once again blocked humanitarian aid destined for Gaza despite the military declaring a closed zone around the main crossing.
The protesters say no more aid should enter Gaza until the hostages still held by Hamas are released.
Last week, protesters blocked the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza for several days.
Aid groups say that even when the crossing is fully operational, the amount of aid entering is insufficient for the humanitarian catastrophe caused by nearly four months of war. U.N. officials say one in four Palestinians in Gaza are starving.
The Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories said over 120 trucks were able to enter before protesters blocked the crossing.
On Monday, 159 trucks passed through Kerem Shalom and another 74 entered via the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Before the war, an average of 500 trucks entered Gaza daily.