The spokesperson for Hamas’ military wing has announced that the group is prepared to release non-Israeli prisoners among at least 200 people in custody once their safety could be guaranteed amid ongoing Israeli airstrikes against the Gaza Strip.
But the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has dismissed the credibility of such remarks, along with the claim that abductees have been killed in Israeli airstrikes.
Speaking in a 10-minute video published Monday, Al-Qassam Brigades spokesperson Abu Obaida said that, while he could not provide an exact count of the number of people seized in the shocking Palestinian air, land and sea assault conducted on October 7, he estimated the total figure to be “between 200 and 250, or exceeding that.”
“The Al-Qassam Brigades has about 200 prisoners and the rest are distributed among other components of the resistance or in places in which we cannot count them,” Abu Obaida said.
He stated that 22 prisoners have been killed so far in Israeli airstrikes, but that the group was treating all those taken fairly.
“We deal with prisoners according to the dictates of the teachings of our religion,” Abu Obaida said. “Their care is required by moral and humanitarian duty. They eat what we eat, they drink what we drink, and they live under the same conditions as all the people in Gaza.”
He said that among the captives were those of “different nationalities” that could not be verified in full as a result of the ongoing wartime conditions.
“They are our guests, we seek to protect them and the moment the conditions on the ground allow we will release them,” Abu Obaida said, accusing the IDF of carrying out “a barbaric and brutal aggression against our people instead of directly engaging with the fighters on the battlefield.”
Newsweek was unable to verify the number or condition of individuals detained by Hamas.
Abu Obaida has previously threatened to execute detainees in response to IDF airstrikes on civilian targets in Gaza, and broadcast their deaths via “audio and video.”
Responding to Newsweek‘s question regarding the Al-Qassam Brigades spokesperson’s remarks, IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus referenced these past threats.
“Abu Obaida is a liar and he represents the scum of the earth, a terrorist organization that abducted, killed, maimed, raped, mutilated, and executed Israeli civilians,” Conricus said Monday during an audio conversation hosted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “His credibility is as low as it could get, and any piece of information that is voiced by him should be treated with extreme caution.”
Conricus said he would “completely disregard his claim of airstrikes killing hostages” and asserted that, “if hostages are dead, it is the responsibility of Hamas and Hamas will pay the price of their actions.”
Conricus also confirmed the figure previously released by fellow IDF spokesperson Read Admiral Daniel Hagari, who raised the figure of known abductees in Gaza to 199. Israeli officials have said nationals from other countries, including the United States, are believed to be in the group’s hands as well.
Responding to a video released Monday purporting to show proof of life and fair treatment of one Israeli national being held by Hamas, the IDF said the group “is trying to portray itself as a humane organization, while it is a murderous terrorist organization responsible for the murder and abduction of babies, women, children, and elderly.”
“The IDF is deploying all intelligence and operational measures for the return of the hostages,” the statement said.
White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Director John Kirby has said that 14 U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for since October 7 and the U.S. State Department has said that at least 30 have been killed.
Israeli officials estimate that at least 1,400 people in Israel were killed as a result of the Hamas-led assault that took the country by surprise on October 7. At least twice as many Palestinians have been killed since then as a result of Israeli strikes, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry.
It’s the deadliest flare-up in decades in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which there is a history of hostages being used as bargaining chips. In October 2011, Israel, then too led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, released 1,027 prisoners in exchange for Hamas freeing captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
On Monday, Hamas senior political official Khaled Meshal told the Qatar-based Al Araby news outlet testified to the humane treatment of those currently detained by the group in Gaza. He called for the release of 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, saying Hamas “has what it needs to empty the prisons of all prisoners.”
This article has been updated to include comments by IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus.