A Hamas official tied the release of hostages held in Gaza to a ceasefire in Israel’s bombardment of the enclave, launched after a deadly rampage by Hamas militants into southern Israel nearly three weeks ago.
Israel says it is preparing a ground invasion, but has been urged by the US and Arab countries to delay an operation that would multiply the number of civilian casualties in the densely populated coastal strip and might ignite a wider conflict. An opinion poll published on Friday suggested almost half of Israelis now wanted to hold off on a ground invasion out of fears for at least 224 hostages reported to be held there.
“They seized dozens of people, most of them civilians, and we need time to find them in the Gaza Strip and then release them,” Hamas official Abu Hamid said. He said Hamas, which has freed four hostages so far, had made clear it intended to release “civilian prisoners”. But this required a “calm environment”, he said.
Israel’s defence minister said Friday that it expects to launch a ground offensive into Gaza soon that will be long and difficult, and aim to destroy a vast network of tunnels used by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers.
Yoav Gallant spoke to a small group of foreign reporters after Israeli forces backed by fighter jets and drones carried out a second ground raid into Gaza in as many days, striking the outskirts of Gaza City. He said the ground invasion would include large forces, backed by airstrikes, and “will take a long time,” without elaborating.
Meanwhile, the US on Friday issued a second round of sanctions aimed at Palestinian militant group Hamas following its attack this month on Israel, including a Hamas official in Iran and members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The measures target additional assets in a Hamas investment portfolio and people facilitating sanctions evasion by Hamas-affiliated companies, the US Treasury Department said.
A senior Iranian envoy also met with Hamas representatives in Moscow following talks with Russian diplomats that underscored Moscow’s efforts to expand its clout as a power broker in the latest Israel-Hamas war, Russian and Iranian media said Friday.
US fighter jets strike Iran-linked sites in Syria US fighter jets launched airstrikes early Friday on two locations in eastern Syria linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Pentagon said, in retaliation for a slew of drone and missile attacks against US bases and personnel in the region that began early last week. The US strikes reflect the Biden administration’s determination to maintain a delicate balance. Meanwhile, Iran warned that the US won’t escape unaffected if the Hamas-Israel war turns into a broader conflict.
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