Israel Issues Deadline to Hamas Over Hostage Release

On October 7, Hamas launched an air, land, and sea attack on neighboring Israel, triggering a war. Israeli authorities estimated that the Sunni Islamist group killed approximately 1,200 people and took as many as 240 hostages back into the Gaza Strip. Recent news reports revealed that a top official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet issued a deadline for Hamas to release the remaining hostages.

On February 18, former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Benjamin Gantz (Ret) warned Hamas that the group had until the beginning of Ramadan to release all the hostages or fighting would resume “everywhere, including Rafah, a Palestinian city located about 20 miles southwest of Gaza City. The Muslim holy month begins on March 10, giving Hamas little time to spare.

Gantz also addressed “those saying the price” of a renewed offensive” was “too high.” He said, “Hamas has a choice.” The group can release the remaining hostages and surrender, and Gaza residents can safely “celebrate the holy holiday of Ramadan.”

President Joe Biden recently told Netanjahu that Israel should refrain from proceeding with any military operation in Rafah unless it has a “credible and executable plan” to provide for the “safety and support” of the city’s civilians.

Gantz addressed those concerns by confirming that the IDF would coordinate its offensive with officials from the United States and Egypt to include an evacuation to “minimize… civilian casualties as much as possible.” However, United Nations officials have consistently cautioned that there is no safe place for non-combatants within the Gaza Strip.

For instance, on February 19, Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations’ senior reconstruction and humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, warned attendees of a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels that an Israeli-led attack on Rafah “would be disastrous” for the civilian population.

Kaag also told reporters that health conditions were already dire in Rafah. She explained that “more than a million people” were already “crammed” in the city in makeshift shelters.