Iran says Hamas will free hostages if Israel halts Gaza attacks

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Jerusalem: Iran has made a surprising claim that the Palestinian militant group Hamas is willing to release more than 200 hostages, mostly Israeli and American citizens if Israel stops its air strikes on the Gaza Strip. The claim, which has not been verified by Hamas or any other source, comes amid the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas that has killed more than 4,000 people in less than two weeks.

Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said that Hamas has informed Iran of its readiness to free all the hostages it has captured during the war, on the condition that Israel ends its relentless bombardment of Gaza. Kanaani also said that Hamas has enough military strength to resist Israel and is not afraid of a ground invasion.

Israel has not responded to Iran’s claim, which contradicts its own statements. On Monday, Israel said that Hamas was holding 199 hostages, a higher number than previously reported. It said the hostages included children, elderly people, and several US citizens. However, it did not provide any proof of their existence or well-being.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said last week that only a handful of Americans were believed to be held by Hamas, but he had no information on their status or location. He urged Hamas to release them immediately and unconditionally.

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The war between Israel and Hamas erupted on October 6, when Hamas launched a massive rocket attack on southern and central Israel, killing 1,400 people. Israel retaliated with air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza, killing at least 2,750 Palestinians and injuring 9,700 others, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The humanitarian situation in Gaza has worsened as Israel has imposed a blockade on the territory, cutting off supplies of fuel, water, and electricity. Egypt has been trying to mediate a ceasefire, but so far without success.