Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Number of surviving Israeli hostages could be ‘as low as 50,’ WSJ report, citing US intel

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Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The number of the Israeli hostages in Gaza who are still alive could be “as low as 50,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Thursday, citing mediators in the hostage talks and a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. intelligence.

Hamas terrorists abducted 251 people from Israel into Gaza as hostages on Oct. 7 of last year, of whom 116 have yet to be freed. According to the assessment, which was partly based on Israeli intelligence, up to 66 of them could already be dead.

To date, Israel has officially determined that at least 41 of them have died, most being killed on Oct. 7 or murdered by the terrorists later or dying from injuries or sickness.

The bodies of 19 dead hostages have so far been retrieved and returned to their families for burial, including eight in the past three months.

The WSJ reported that the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report.

The question of how many hostages are still alive has been widely discussed in the framework of the hostage deal negotiations.

While Hamas claims not to know how many hostages remain alive and where they are being held, it has demanded to include dead hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

At first, Israel strongly rejected this demand but during the most recent round of talks, appeared to be open to it, up until the negotiations reached a dead end.

Last week, Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan was asked in an interview how many captives were still alive. “I don’t have any idea about that,” Hamdan responded. “No one has any idea about this.”

In April, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, refuted claims made by the Daily Mail that only 40 Israeli hostages were still alive in Hamas captivity.

“The numbers mentioned in the article are based on the writer’s opinion only and are not based on information from the Shin Bet,” the agency stated.

About two weeks earlier, the WSJ cited U.S. officials estimating that most of the hostages were “already dead,” but added that the U.S. was dependent on Israeli intelligence in Gaza.

According to the report, American and Israeli officials told the WSJ they believed many of the remaining hostages were being held underground, close to Hamas’ leadership, to serve as human shields.

On Monday, a senior Israeli negotiator told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that dozens of the 120 hostages remaining in Hamas captivity are still alive.

Despite Israeli estimates that at least 41 hostages have already perished, the anonymous member of Israel’s negotiating team said dozens “are alive with certainty,” but cautioned, “We cannot leave them there a long time, they will die.”

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