Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip “will not be returned alive” unless Israeli forces leave, a Hamas spokesman said on Wednesday, highlighting the predicament facing the Israeli government: It has vowed to free the hostages, and to pursue the war and defeat Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under significant pressure to do whatever is required to get the remaining hostages who are still alive — more than 100 of them, the government says — home safely. Yet public opinion surveys show that most Israelis also support his stated aim of eliminating Hamas, which led the deadly Oct. 7 assault on Israel, as a military force.
“We affirm that the enemy prisoners will not be returned alive to their families,” Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman, said at a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, unless Israel meets the conditions Hamas has set, “the first of which is a comprehensive cessation of the aggression against Gaza.”
Parsing the meaning of such statements is a challenge, in part because Hamas has not always followed through on previous threats. Shortly after its incursion into Israel, Hamas said it would kill its captives taken to Gaza unless Israel halted its retaliatory bombing campaign; it did not carry out that threat, though the bombing continued, and later set free more than 100 hostages, mostly in return for the release of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
It was also unclear whether Mr. Hamdan was saying the hostages, who have been in captivity more than three months, would be killed, or that they would be held indefinitely. It has kept some of its kidnap victims for years.
Mr. Hamdan rejected talk of a deal that would see Hamas leaders in Gaza going safely into exile, hostages being released and Israeli forces withdrawing from the territory. Israeli news media reported that something along those lines was being discussed by the governments of Qatar and Egypt.
“There is no initiative, as for the Qatari initiative, an Israeli withdrawal and the exit of Hamas leaders,” Mr. Hamdan said, calling it an Israeli attempt to mislead people.
He was equally dismissive of Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who has been meeting with Middle East leaders to get behind a plan for governing and rebuilding Gaza after the war. That plan calls for the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited power in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to govern Gaza, as well — in effect ousting Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007.
“After Blinken’s statement that many countries in the region have shown a willingness to invest in the future of Gaza, we affirm that the Palestinian people are the only ones to decide their future without interference from anyone,” Mr. Hamdan said.