Who are the remaining hostages held in Gaza?

More than 100 Israelis are in the Gaza Strip, and thousands of Palestinians remain in administrative detention

Protesters during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks. AFP
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The fate of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip is uncertain after the collapse of the week-long ceasefire, during which dozens were released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel.

And an unknown number of Palestinians – many of them detained indefinitely ahead of any trial – remain in limbo in Israeli jails after the ceasefire ended.

Hamas and aligned militant groups seized about 247 hostages in their October 7 attack on southern Israel, where about 1,200 people were killed. The number has never been definitive as Israel worked to determine who had been taken to Gaza and who had been killed in the rampage.

When the ceasefire ended on Friday, Israel said some 110 women and child hostages held by Hamas militants in Gaza had been returned to their families. They include 86 Israeli citizens and 24 foreign nationals, most of them Thais.

The resumption of the war quickly saw the death toll in Gaza climb again. The local health ministry says more than 15,200 people, most of them women and children, have been killed in Israel's air-and-ground offensive on the Strip.

Who is still being held in Gaza?

As of Sunday, 137 hostages remained in Gaza, with 117 of those being male, including two children, and the rest female, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy told reporters.

At the weekend, Israeli authorities also released the names of several hostages who had died while in captivity. Authorities did not release specifics but according to testimonies of hostages who had been released, some of their fellow captives had been “murdered”.

The Prime Minister's Office said about 10 of the hostages still in Gaza are aged 75 or older. The vast majority are Israeli while 11 are foreign nationals, including eight from Thailand, one from Nepal and Tanzania each, and one French-Mexican.

The plight of the hostages has preoccupied Israel almost as much as the war itself.

Families of the captives organised a grassroots campaign to pressure the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to act after it launched its retaliatory campaign against Hamas without a publicly disclosed plan for the hostages.

Now, their names and faces are plastered on street signs, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem and in public spaces across the country.

Mr Levy said the youngest hostage, 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, his four-year-old brother Ariel and their mother Shiri were still among the hostages.

Last week, relatives and supporters released hundreds of orange balloons into the sky to draw attention to their case. The boys have distinctive orange hair.

The Israeli military has said it is investigating a Hamas claim that the boys and their mother were killed in an Israeli air strike.

What is happening to Palestinian prisoners?

As the truce started, the Israeli government published a list of more than 300 Palestinian prisoners eligible for potential release in an exchange.

Of those, Israel released 240 people, many of them teens under 18 and most of them not convicted of a crime.

Seventeen-year-old Firas Samara was on that initial list but was not released. His 51-year-old mother, Umm Firas, said she felt like she aged 70 years waiting to see if he would come out.

"When I saw his name at the beginning, one of the 300, I was very happy. I was waiting for that moment that he would be released," Umm Firas told The National.

"I was waiting for the first phase, second phase, third phase. He didn't come out and his name was not there. And then I started to be very worried."

According to the Israeli Department of Justice, Firas was arrested in July on suspicion of a range of offences including "membership of an unspecified organisation, throwing a bomb or an incendiary, shooting at people."

His mother said she had been given no information about his alleged offences and no charges have been brought. She feared his detention would be indefinitely prolonged and said he was being kept without access to warm clothes and medicine, and food was scarce.

The list highlights how often Israel's military relies on indefinite administrative detention, often for throwing stones or incendiary devices, instead of prosecuting suspects. Rights groups say thousands of people are being denied due process.

While some of those held are accused of “supporting terrorism”, many on the list are being held under the vague alleged offence of “damage to the security of the area”.

Many Israelis oppose the release of Palestinians, saying they too often go on to reoffend, such as in the case of last week's mass shooting at a Jerusalem bus stop that authorities say was carried out by two brothers who were affiliated with Hamas and who had previously been in Israeli jail.

In the weeks since October 7, Israeli authorities have arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians – far more than were released during the ceasefire – and a record high number were being held without charge or trial, said a statement by the UN Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Updated: December 03, 2023, 2:34 PM