Hamas has inflicted a grave situation by reportedly taking hundreds of innocent civilians, including children, hostage within Israel. This has pushed the Jewish state into an urgent race to find and free them. And now the terror group has threatened to start executing captives.
Hamas' armed wing said on Monday evening that it would execute an Israeli civilian captive for every new Israeli airstrike on civilian residences that occurs without prior warning. Israeli authorities have not shared specific information about the number and identities of the kidnapped. However, a preliminary assessment shared by a senior military official with the New York Times, suggests at least 150 people have been captured.
Israel in Race Against Time
Hamas' fresh threat puts the Jewish state in a desperate race to free the captives before they start executing them one by one.
"We have decided to put an end to this and as of now, we declare that any targeting of our people in their homes without prior warning will be regrettably faced with the execution of one the hostages of civilians we are holding,' Abu Obaida, spokesperson for the Al-Qassam Brigades, said in a recording released to Al Jazeera.
Obaida stated that Hamas, in accordance with Islamic instructions, has aimed to ensure the safety of Israeli captives. He attributed this decision to Israel's escalated bombings and killings of civilians within their homes, highlighting the airstrikes conducted without prior warning.
The retaliatory actions by Hamas are contextualized within their perspective of defending their own people amidst the ongoing conflict and seeking to address what they view as disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians by Israel.
At least 150 civilians are believed to have been held captive by Hamas terrorists.
Among them are 5-year-old Raz and 3-year-old Aviv, their devastated father Yoni Asher revealed on Monday. Asher's world came crumbling down on Saturday as he recognized his young daughters and their mother in a distressing video that was circulating on social media.
The video showed the abducted Israelis being coerced onto a flatbed truck, surrounded by armed men.
Yoni had his last conversation with his wife, Doron Asher Katz, 34, on that fateful day when she called him from her mother's home in southern Israel, as reported by Bloomberg.
"She told me terrorists had infiltrated the home," he told the outlet. "The phone got disconnected."
It is not clear where the Hamas terrorists are hiding the hundreds they ruthlessly abducted. Despite Gaza being a small, closely monitored area surrounded by the Israel Defense Force, it remains challenging for Israeli intelligence agencies to gain a clear understanding.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that those who have been kidnapped, including Israeli soldiers, the elderly, and women, are facing immediate and severe peril.
Matter of Life and Death
The situation has now got complicated with the fresh threats of execution of one civilian for every bombing in the Gaza Strip. This threat underscores a harsh reality: Hamas appears extremely determined to kidnap innocent civilians due to the potential leverage it offers them.
"The cruel reality is Hamas took hostages as an insurance policy against Israeli retaliatory action, particularly a massive ground attack and to trade for Palestinian prisoners," said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"Will it constrain how Israel responds?" he asked. "If the numbers are great, how could it not?"
Yifat Zailer, whose cousin's family was among those kidnapped, including a nine-month-old and a three-year-old, made a heartfelt plea to the international community for action in a deeply emotional interview on CNN.
"All the institutions of the world should help kidnapped civilians. Please do something to force Hamas to release them alive!," she pleaded as she broke down in tears.
"This is unprecedented — nothing like this has happened before. We need everyone's help. We need the president of Turkey, we need the king of Egypt. We need everyone to help us! Please! I'm sorry I'm so emotional."
Much like Asher, Zailer discovered that her relatives had been kidnapped when she identified them in a video circulating on social media, as reported by the Agence France-Presse.
Gaza has witnessed severe devastation from continuous airstrikes since Saturday, with the IDF stating they struck 500 targets on Sunday night alone. Densely populated areas like the Jabalia refugee camp were hit early on Monday, and initial reports indicated dozens of casualties.
On Monday, Israel ordered a 'complete siege' of Gaza, severely restricting essential supplies by cutting off electricity, fuel, and food for the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million people.
In a video statement on Monday, Israel's foreign minister issued a warning to Hamas, cautioning them against causing harm to any of the hostages who were abducted from Israel and are currently being held in Gaza.
Eli Cohen said Israel's dedication to bringing the hostages home 'in the spirit of mutual responsibility.'