Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza
Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas on October 7 will not be released unless an “all-for-all” deal is agreed by the two sides, in which all Palestinian detainees are freed from Israeli prisons, a Hamas representative in Lebanon told The National on Wednesday.
“Originally we’d said that we would not be discussing the captive soldiers until after the war,” Ahmad Abdel Hadi said. “But later our leadership said we don’t mind doing so if it’s an all-for-all deal.”
It is not known how many of the remaining hostages – about 160 – are Israeli soldiers. Most are believed to be held by Hamas, but others are thought to be under the control of other Palestinian factions.
There are about 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli detention, including 200 children, according to the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, which monitors the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israel and the West Bank.
More than 2,000 of them are in administrative detention, which allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial by citing secret evidence.
“If the enemy wants a comprehensive deal in which we can get all our prisoners out of the jails [in exchange for all Hamas-held hostages, including soldiers] we wouldn’t have a problem,” Mr Abdel Hadi said.
“We demand the return of all prisoners in exchange for the soldiers.”
Hamas seeks extension of truce
The “all-for-all” deal suggested by the Hamas representative would be separate from the current four-day truce deal, which came into effect on Friday and was extended for two days on Tuesday.
Under the terms of the initial four-day deal, Hamas released 50 Israeli women and children in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
The truce is extendable by one day for every 10 Israeli civilian captives, which would also see 30 Palestinian detainees released a day.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Mr Abdel Hadi said the group wants to gradually extend the truce to eventually achieve a longer-term ceasefire in Gaza.
On Wednesday, a source close to Hamas told AFP that the group was willing to extend the truce by an additional four days.
“If the Zionists don’t agree to a truce extension, the resistance is prepared to battle for months,” Mr Abdel Hadi said on Tuesday. “The ground war has barely even begun, and we haven’t yet used our full capabilities. We are prepared for either scenario.”
Despite mediation efforts to achieve a long-term ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to eliminate Hamas, said on Wednesday that Israel would "unequivocally" resume fighting Hamas following the end of the truce.
“In recent days I have heard a question,” he said. “After completing this stage of the return of our hostages, will Israel go back to the fighting? My answer is an unequivocal yes.”
Hamas has used the time given by the temporary truce to promote its image, declare a number of symbolic and strategic victories, and mobilise Arab and international support.
Since the truce began on Friday, the group has held press conferences in Lebanon, where some of its leadership live in exile, seeking to gain leverage in the broader media war.
The group has framed its October 7 attack on southern Israel as the catalyst for shattering global public opinion on Israel.
About 1,200 Israelis were killed in an attack planned by the Hamas armed wing Al Qassam Brigades – prompting Israel to bombard and then launch a ground invasion of Hamas-controlled Gaza that has killed more than 15,000 Palestinians.
“Our operation was a surprise and a shock,” Mr Abdel Hadi said, adding that it opened a new phase in the Hamas conflict with Israel that has widened the rules of engagement.
“It succeeded in shattering the illusion of Israel’s invincible military and security, and renewed global interest in the Palestinian cause.”
The attack was widely condemned by governments and agencies, with rights group Amnesty International accusing Hamas of “brutal crimes” in southern Israel such as summary killings and hostage-taking.
Israel has also drawn widespread condemnation for its unyielding assault on Gaza, with Amnesty International describing “damning evidence of war crimes” and a “shocking disregard of civilian life” in its October report.
UN Secretary General António Guterres on Wednesday described Gaza as “in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe before the eyes of the world”.
More than 30 UN experts in mid-November said a ceasefire was necessary to prevent a spiral “towards a genocide conducted with 21st century means and methods of warfare”.
People have marched in cities across the world to call for a permanent ceasefire.
Hamas has capitalised on the media furore, publicly calling for international shows of solidarity and disseminating videos of its armed wing releasing Israeli captives in northern Gaza.
In some of the videos, the hostages could be seen waving at their captors and smiling. Israel has said the scenes were choreographed, with other observers saying the hostages, many of whom still have relatives in captivity, were under duress.
News about the hostages, once released into Israel, has been limited to testimonials from family members and loved ones. The hostages themselves have remained under the supervision of Israeli authorities and have largely been kept away from the media.
In contrast, Palestinians released from Israeli prisons in the West Bank have given several testimonies of mistreatment by prison guards, complaining of inhumane conditions and saying they were beaten and starved, especially in the days immediately following October 7.
“The world sees the occupation for what it is now. Its criminal face has been revealed,” Mr Abdel Hadi said at the press conference.