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What to know about the hostages held by Hamas

October 17, 2023

International outcry is mounting as Hamas keeps some 200 civilians and soldiers hostage. While details have remained murky, recent statements shed light on the militant group's aims.

A woman hangs a poster with the word "kidnapped" at the top among similar posters on a wall
Relatives of hostages kidnapped by the Hamas militant group hang signsImage: Max Zander/Naama Muflag/DW

The Israeli military (IDF) says at least 199 civilians and soldiers were taken hostage by the Islamist militant group Hamas during its terror attacks on Israel earlier this month.

The new figure, revealed by IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari in a Monday media briefing, represents a significant increase from previous estimates of about 160 hostages.

Later on Monday, Hamas released a video in which military wing spokesperson Abu Obaida confirmed the group was holding at least 200 people captive. He added that 50 others were being held by "other resistance factions and in other places" without specifying further.

Abu Obaida said at least 22 hostages had been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, adding that non-Israeli captives were "guests" who would be released "when circumstances allow."

Who are the Israeli hostages?

Hamas' televised message came a few hours after the Islamist militant group — designated a terrorist organization by Germany, the EU, US and several other nations — released a video featuring Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman abducted during Hamas' initial attacks on Israel.

In the video, Schem is shown receiving medical treatment from an unidentified medical worker. She pleaded for an immediate reunion with her family.

Mia Shem's mother, holding her doughter's picture.
Israeli-French hostage Mia Shem, 21, was kidnapped from the Supernova music festival on October 7Image: Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the video on Tuesday.

"It is an ignominy to take innocent people hostage and put them on show in this odious way," he said, as cited by the presidential palace. The French president called for Schem's unconditional release and said his government was collaborating with partners to secure the release of French hostages held by Hamas.

"We have received inquiries from various countries, particularly regarding the release of their citizens," Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Tuesday, state-run Anadolu news agency reports. "We have initiated negotiations, particularly with the political wing of Hamas," he said.

Israeli officials have not publicly provided specific details about the identities of the hostages, but they are believed to include soldiers, civilians, minors, Israelis with dual citizenship and individuals from Thailand, Germany, and the US.

Israeli military: Hamas abducted at least 199 people

Why did Hamas take hostages?

Last week, Hamas' armed wing threatened to execute a civilian hostage every time an Israeli airstrike hit Gazans "in their homes without warning," but has made no further announcements despite the ongoing Israeli air raid in Gaza .

Hamas has consistently advocated for the release of the thousands Palestinians currently being held in Israeli prisons.

Khaled Mashal, a former Hamas political leader, said the group now has the means to secure the freedom of Palestinians detained in Israeli jails on Saudi Arabia's Al-Arabiya news channel on Monday. 

"One of the goals of this war was to capture Israeli soldiers and officers. We have enough prisoners for the exchange of [Palestinian] prisoners," he said.

Khaled Mashal, former Hamas commander, in a crowd
Mashal, who now heads Hamas' diaspora office in Qatar, said the group will use the captives to negotiate the freedom of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.Image: Jordan Pix/ Getty Images

A long history of hostage-taking

Different Palestinian militant groups have long taken hostages as a tactic to exert pressure on Israeli authorities.

One of the most notable hostage-taking incidents occurred in 1972 during the Munich Olympics, when Palestinian militants took 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage.

In return for their release, the militants demanded that Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails be set free. The event led to a standoff resulting in the deaths of all 11 hostages during a botched rescue attempt.

In 2011, Israel exchanged hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for the release of one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped and held captive by Hamas for five years.

Israel has been widely criticized by the UN and rights groups for its incarceration of Palestinians. A report by the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner from July 2023 said that "there were 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including 160 children."

In July, a United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territory said some 1,100 Palestinians were being held in Israeli prisons without charge or trial, calling the detainments "unlawful" and "tantamount to international crimes."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has condemned the Hamas attacks and called for the immediate release of all hostages. 

Edited by: Maren Sass and Clare Roth

Growing anger in Israel over the plight of hostages