Israel says 4 more hostages are dead, killed months ago in Gaza

The Israeli military said Monday that four more hostages kidnapped in Hamas-led attacks on October 7 had died months ago in Gaza, a revelation likely to increase pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to proceed with a cease-and-desist. fire agreement.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli army spokesman, said at a news conference on Monday that the four hostages were believed to have been killed together “several months ago” near Khan Younis, southern Gaza, as Israeli forces operated in the area. area. The military identified the men as Haim Perry, Yoram Metzger, Amiram Cooper and Nadav Popplewell.

Admiral Hagari said the decision to announce the deaths of the hostages on Monday was based on “recently verified additional intelligence information, which made it possible to determine today that the four are no longer alive,” adding that he knew that “difficult questions ” would have been relieved. arise about the circumstances of their death. The families of the four had been informed that their bodies were being held by Hamas and the circumstances of their deaths were “still under investigation”, the Israeli military said.

The Hostages Families Forum, an advocacy group, released a statement calling on the Israeli government to immediately negotiate a deal to free the remaining hostages. The four who were declared dead on Monday were said to have been alive when they were abducted from Kibbutz Nirim and Kibbutz Nir Oz, and that there had been “signs of life” in between.

“Their murder in captivity is a sign of shame and a sad reflection on the importance of delaying previous agreements,” the group said.

Pressure on Netanyahu to end the fighting in Gaza has increased since last week, when President Biden publicly endorsed what he called a three-stage ceasefire proposal advanced by Israel. But Netanyahu's far-right political allies have threatened to bring down his government if Israel reaches a deal that ends the war without eliminating Hamas.

On Monday, Netanyahu told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting that President Biden had not presented the “full picture” when he described the proposed ceasefire, according to a person who attended the meeting and requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations. . But the Israeli leader expressed openness to a 42-day pause in fighting, the person said, embracing at least part of the first phase of the cease-fire plan.

A spokesman for Hamas' military wing, Abu Ubaida, said on March 1 that three of the men now reported dead – Cooper, Metzger and Perry – were among seven hostages killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Hamas said on May 11 that the fourth man, Popplewell, had died from wounds sustained in an Israeli airstrike more than a month earlier and that he had been unable to receive adequate medical care due to the destruction of Gaza hospitals by Israel. That day, Hamas had released an undated video of him in captivity.

The New York Times reported in February that Israeli intelligence officials had concluded that at least 30 hostages had died since the war began. Hamas' military wing, the Qassam Brigades, said in March that it believed Israeli military operations in the enclave may have killed more than 70 hostages in total.

Israeli forces shot and killed three hostages in December while waving an improvised white flag, an incident that shocked Israeli society and renewed outrage at the government for continuing its offensive in Gaza instead of negotiating another truce to allow the transfer of other hostages. released.

Another hostage, a grandmother abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, was most likely killed by Israeli fire from a helicopter, the Israeli army said in April.

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