Gaza (Reuters) – Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, has released two U.S. hostages from Gaza – a mother and her daughter – “for humanitarian reasons” in response to Qatari mediation efforts in the war with Israel, its spokesman Abu Ubaida said on Friday.
Hamas says it took about 200 hostages during a deadly Oct. 7 rampage carried out from the Gaza Strip on communities and military bases in southern Israel, part of the biggest attack on the country since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Hamas said 50 more are held by other armed groups in the enclave. It said more than 20 hostages have been killed by Israeli air strikes, but has not given any further details.
Abu Ubaida said they released the citizens “for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by (President Joe) Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless.”
Israel responded to the hostage crisis and the attack by Hamas gunmen which killed 1,400 Israelis by pounding Gaza with air strikes, killing more than 4,000 people, and has said it will act to free the hostages while wiping out Hamas.
It amassed tanks and troops near the perimeter of the enclave for an expected ground invasion, calling on Palestinians to evacuate the north of Gaza, where it says Hamas is dug in.
Israel has also said that there will be no end to its full blockade of the enclave unless Israeli hostages are freed.
Those held include women, children, the elderly and people from other countries which have been working for their release, along with some Israeli soldiers.
Hamas’ armed wing said on Oct. 16 that kidnapped non-Israelis were “guests” who would be released “when circumstances on the ground allow.”
Hamas has suggested the hostages could be swapped for 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons but Israel is unlikely to agree to that while it is on a war footing.
Hamas has released a video of Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman captured at a dance party. In the video, she was shown in an unknown location being treated for an injury to her arm by an unidentified medical worker.
Concern for those taken into Gaza complicates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledged aim of eliminating Hamas while sticking to a longstanding principle of leaving no one behind.
In 2011, Israel swapped hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to win the release of one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years.
That kind of exchange – criticised by some Israelis as too lopsided – looks impossible now as a nation scarred by past hostage crises tackles what appears to be the most difficult one yet.
American and British officials have confirmed they have been working with Qatar to secure the release of hostages, including their citizens, held in Gaza.
Other countries that have said their citizens are being held include Thailand, Argentina, Germany, France and Portugal.