Hamas has claimed that two of three hostages have been killed by an Israeli missile strike after a teaser video was released showing them.
The terror group appeared to show the dead bodies of two Israeli hostages Yossi Sharabi, 53, and Itai Svirsky, 38, on Monday after warning Israel they might be killed if it did not stop its bombardment of Gaza.
It also showed a third Israeli hostage, Noa Argamani, 26, speaking under duress said the two were killed by “our own IDF strikes,” referring to the Israeli military.
Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari moved to dispel the accusation, saying: “Itai was not shot by our forces. That is a Hamas lie. The building in which they were held was not a target and it was not attacked by our forces,” Hagari told reporters.
“We don’t attack a place if we know there may be hostages inside,” he said, adding that areas nearby had been targeted.”
The three were among some 240 taken hostage by Hamas militants during a surprise cross-border rampage into southern Israel on October 7.
Around half of those hostages were released during a short-lived November truce, but Israel says 132 remain in Gaza and that 25 have died in captivity.
The three Israelis were shown in a Hamas video on Sunday in which the group urged the Israeli government to halt its aerial and ground offensive and bring about their release.
It ended with the caption: “Tomorrow (Monday) we will inform you of their fate.”
Roughly half of those kidnapped in October were exchanged for Palestinian prisoners during a week-long ceasefire in November.
Roughly 1,200 Israelis were also killed during the Hamas incursion into Israel on 7 October.
Israel’s retaliatory aerial bombardment and subsequent ground offensive has killed more than 24,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
The fate of the hostages still in Gaza remains the most significant concern of most Israelis.
Over the weekend, relatives of the hostages staged a 24-hour demonstration, including a 100-minute solidarity strike by the national labour union Histadrut, alongside academic institutions and various private sector companies.
The demonstrators have called for a pause in fighting in Gaza to ensure the release of further hostages but the Israeli military maintains that its offensive campaign is the only way to ensure more civilians are freed.
But Herzi Halevi, Israel’s military chief, said Hamas’ recent attempts to negotiate a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages amounted to “extortion”.
During the first round of swaps in November, Israel agreed to halt its military campaign in the enclave for the release of hostages.
Israeli forces, meanwhile, bombarded targets in the south, north and centre of Gaza on Monday ahead of the expected announcement by Hamas on the fate of three Israelis held hostage.
Twelve Palestinians were killed and others wounded in an Israeli airstrike overnight on a house in Gaza City in the north, health officials said, while plumes of smoke rose above the main southern city of Khan Younis shelled by Israeli tanks.
Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Press Agency SAFA reported fierce clashes between Hamas militants and Israeli forces in Khan Younis, while Israeli tank barrages were also reported near the Al-Bureij and Al-Maghazi refugee camps in central Gaza.
Health officials said 132 were killed in the past 24 hours, suggesting to Palestinians that there has been little let-up in the intensity of Israel’s offensive despite its announcement of a shift to a new, more targeted phase.
Speaking on CBS, White House national security council spokesman John Kirby said the US has been speaking to Israel “about a transition to low-intensity operations” in Gaza, adding that they believed it was “the right time to transition”.