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Hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas must include “all actors” that can push for the release of more civilians, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday.
Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, staged an attack on Israel on October 7 and took more than 200 hostages.
The ICRC has assisted in the release of four hostages held by Hamas so far, with two released on Monday night.
“Our efforts and dialogue alone are not enough to guarantee their release. We urge all actors who can influence the situation to help us advance humanitarian goals on all sides,” Jessica Moussan, the ICRC media adviser for the Middle East, told The National.
The stakes are high, she said, and the ICRC hopes and “looks forward to more of these releases”.
Hamas released two women late on Monday for humanitarian reasons, days after freeing an American woman and her teenage daughter.
“There are humanitarian elements that are taken into account during the hostage negotiations, women, elderly people and children are the ones who have nothing to do with the conflict,” Hazim Qassim, a Hamas spokesman, told The National.
There are “issues that need to be worked out and people are under a lot of pressure and we hope it will end soon”, he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded the unconditional release of all hostages held in Gaza as Israel continues the bombardment that has so far killed more than 5,000 people. About 1,400 people were killed in the October 7 attack on Israel, most of them civilians.
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas political leader in Lebanon, told The National that civilians who have been detained in the Gaza Strip are not viewed as “hostages but as guests”.
“We have made the distinction very clear that we are differentiating them from those soldiers from the occupiers as prisoners and we will only release them in a prisoner exchange deal with our own Palestinian prisoners at a later stage,” Mr Hamdan said.
Qatar and Egypt have both taken leading roles in the negotiations.
Hamas officials are in “constant communication between the Qataris and their fighters on the ground, known as Al Qassam brigades” to prioritise the release of elderly female prisoners on humanitarian bases, a Hamas leader in Doha told The National.
“In the last round, we tried to communicate our desire to release the two elderly women to the Israelis who did not reciprocate our offer but we still released them with the co-ordination of the humanitarian teams on the ground in Gaza,” said the official.
Israel's military dropped leaflets in Gaza on Tuesday, offering rewards and protection to any Palestinians who could give them information about the hostages.
Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said once Israel stops the bombing of Gaza, all hostages will be released.
“Let them stop this aggression and you will find the mediators like Qatar and Egypt and some Arab countries and others will find a way to have them released and we’ll send them to their homes,” Mr Mashaal said.
Israel has hit Gaza with heavy air and artillery strikes, plunging the Palestinian territory into a humanitarian crisis, with thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, according to the Hamas-ruled health ministry.