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Hamas says it cannot produce 40 hostages meeting criteria for ceasefire deal, according to reports

At least 98 hostages were presumed to be alive. So what does Hamas’ inability to release 40 people mean?

Hamas says it does not have 40 hostages who meet the proposed criteria for releasing captives in exchange for a ceasefire, CNN reported Wednesday.

At least 98 hostages are presumed to be alive. Nearly three dozen more hostages are believed to have been killed or died in captivity. It was unclear, from Hamas’ claim that they cannot produce 40 hostages for the prisoner exchange, whether the number of deceased hostages might be even higher.  

Many of those held by Hamas are soldiers who would have been excluded under the original proposed terms of the deal, which called for releasing women, including female soldiers, along with men age 50 and older, and younger men in poor health.

Israel now wants Hamas to include hostages from other categories — male soldiers or younger men — to reach the target number, according to Axios

In return, Israel would free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and pause its war in Gaza for six weeks — a one-day pause for every freed hostage.

More than 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. A total of 112 hostages have been returned alive to Israel, with 109 of those released by Hamas and three rescued by the Israel Defense Forces. In addition, the bodies of 12 hostages, including three killed in an IDF operation in Gaza, have been repatriated.

Among those missing are the youngest hostages, Kfir and Ariel Bibas, and their mother, Shiri. Ariel is 4 years old and Kfir’s first birthday would have been in January. Hamas has said that all three were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Israel has not confirmed that claim. The Bibas boys were the last children held by Hamas; all the others were released in prisoner exchanges. 

The other remaining captives range in age from 19 to 83. 

Before doubts were raised about Hamas’ ability to reach the target number, hopes had been high that the deal could be reached in talks between Israeli, U.S., Qatari and Hamas representatives in Cairo.

Another factor that could derail any forthcoming deal was the news that the Israeli military killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. “The enemy believes that by targeting the families of the leaders, it will push them to give up the demands of our people,” Haniyeh said Wednesday. “Anyone who believes that targeting my sons will push Hamas to change its position is delusional.”

The Israeli consulate in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An organization representing American families with eight loved ones among the remaining hostages had no comment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of progress in eradicating Hamas and bringing the remaining hostages home has led to widespread protests in Israel and calls for his resignation there. President Joe Biden has also been pressuring him for an immediate ceasefire. 

Gaza Health Ministry officials say that Israel’s war there has killed more than 30,000 people, destroyed half of the enclave’s buildings and caused life-threatening disruptions to supplies of food, water and medical care. Last week, an IDF strike killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen. That attack and the humanitarian crisis led a group of 40 Congressional Democrats and a number of Democratic senators to ask Biden to halt a transfer of new arms to Israel and limit military aid to defensive weapons only.

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