Israeli intelligence officers have concluded that more than a fifth of the 136 individuals still held hostage by Hamas in Gaza are dead, according to a confidential assessment which found more captives have been killed than expected.
The Israeli military confirmed the deaths of at least 30 of the more than 130 remaining hostages, according to a copy of the intelligence report reviewed by The New York Times. Meanwhile, unverified intelligence indicates that around 20 other captives may also be dead if unconfirmed reports prove to be true, four officials told the outlet.
The NYT reported Tuesday that the Israeli military said some of the deceased individuals were killed on Oct. 7, the day that Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel. The assessment didn't state whether hostages were killed by Israeli airstrikes.
After breaking through the border, Hamas terrorists slaughtered at least 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, and abducted more than 240 others.
In response, Israel declared itself in a state of war, launching an offensive in Gaza to eradicate Hamas, a terror group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, and secure the release of the hostages. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says at least 27,000 people have died in Gaza since the war began. It is unclear how many of those killed are combatants and civilians.
While Hamas released several hostages during a temporary ceasefire in November, dozens remain in captivity.
Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor at the Washington-based nonpartisan think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Christian Post in a statement that he is not surprised by the news.
"Sadly this has been rumored for quite some time and is not unexpected given both injuries sustained on October 7th and previous leaked intelligence showing Hamas murdered hostages while in captivity," he stated. "This should serve as a reminder of the kind of evil Israel is confronting — and reaffirm U.S. support for Israel finishing its military campaign to destroy Hamas."
The Israeli military told the NYT that it is "deploying all available resources to locate and retrieve as much information as possible regarding the hostages currently held by Hamas."
Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said during a press conference that the IDF had notified the families of 31 hostages about the deaths of their loved ones, according to The Times of Israel. The spokesman stated that IDF is "working in all ways to return [the hostages] home, and exhausting all information about them and their conditions."
"The IDF is accompanying the families of the hostages in these complex and difficult days, and our representatives are providing the families with any confirmed information on their loved ones," Hagari stated.
The latest news about the hostages comes as Hamas has proposed a ceasefire agreement that would include three phases for the captives' release, with each stage lasting 45 days. The proposal is a response to Qatari and Egyptian mediators supported by the United States and Israel.
A draft of the proposal seen by Reuters proposes the release of all Israeli women hostages, males under 19 and the elderly and sick during the first phase. The second would include the release of the remaining male hostages, while the third would consist of the exchange of bodies and remains.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the proposal "delusional," stressing his government's commitment to eradicate Hamas.
"Capitulating to Hamas' delusional demands will not lead to the release of the hostages but only invite another massacre and another catastrophe for Israel," Netanyahu said during a press conference.
Under the agreement, Israel would have to release Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and withdraw troops from populated areas, according to the draft. In an addendum to the proposal, Hamas demanded the release of 1,500 prisoners from Israeli jails. The second phase would not begin until "indirect talks over the requirements needed to end the mutual military operations and return to complete calm," according to Reuters.
Earlier this week, the prime minister visited the 8104th Battalion of the 179th Brigade at the IDF Armored Corps Memorial, where he stated that "total victory" in the war with Hamas is "essential."
"I told your commanders that several days ago, I received a cap with two words on it: 'Total victory.' This is the essence of our policy — total victory over Hamas," Netanyahu said.
"Total victory is essential because it ensures the security of Israel. Total victory is the only way in which we can ensure additional historic peace agreements, which await," he continued. "Total victory will strike a mortal blow against the axis of evil: Iran, Hezbollah, the Houthis and — of course — Hamas."