The armed wing of the Palestinian group Hamas said on Monday it had released two female civilian captives in response to Egyptian-Qatari mediation efforts, and a source told Reuters they were elderly Israelis.
Abu Ubaida, spokesman for armed wing, said on Telegram it had secured the release of the detainees “despite the enemy’s refusal to accept them since last Friday and their neglect of the issue of our prisoners”.
“We decided to release them for humanitarian and poor health grounds … Despite that, the enemy refused to receive them last Friday,” the statement added.
The armed wing released two Americans on Friday, nearly two weeks after Hamas gunmen abducted them and dozens of others near Gaza in an Oct. 7 cross-border assault, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages.
A Qatar foreign ministry spokesperson on Friday said that the release of US hostages from Gaza came “after many days on continuous communication” with all parties.
Israel pounded hundreds of targets in Gaza from the air on Monday as its soldiers fought Hamas fighters during raids into the besieged Palestinian strip deaths are soaring and civilians are trapped in harrowing conditions.
Gaza’s health ministry said 436 people had been killed in bombardments over the past 24 hours, most in the south of the narrow, densely populated territory, next to which Israeli troops and tanks have massed for a possible ground invasion.
Read also: Hamas frees two hostages as Palestinian death toll crosses 4,000
The Israeli military said it had struck more than 320 targets in Gaza over 24 hours, including a tunnel housing Hamas fighters, dozens of command and lookout posts, and mortar and anti-tank missile launcher positions.
The Israeli bombardment was triggered by the Oct. 7 assault, the bloodiest episode in a single day since the state of Israel was founded 75 years ago.
With Gaza’s 2.3 million people running short of basics, European leaders looked set to follow the United Nations and Arab nations in calling for a “humanitarian pause” in hostilities so aid could reach them.
A US special envoy is negotiating with Israel, Egypt and the United Nations to create a “sustained delivery mechanism” to get aid into Gaza after aid convoys began crossing into the strip from Egypt, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.
The UN said desperate Gazans also lacked places to shelter from the unrelenting pounding that has flattened swathes of the Hamas-ruled enclave.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the need for a multilateral approach to resolve the conflict and said the United States had not offered any new ideas.
Read: Qatar in talks with Hamas, Israel to swap hostages for prisoners
“The more we have such ‘initiatives” from any one state, the greater in general will be the risks, the danger of the conflict growing,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted him as saying after a regional meeting in Tehran.
The conflict meanwhile was escalating beyond Gaza.
Israeli aircraft hit positions in south Lebanon held by Hezbollah which, like Hamas, is a group allied to Israel’s long-time foe Iran. The Israeli army and Palestinians also clashed in the occupied West Bank. And Hamas fired more rockets into Israel.
At least 5,087 Palestinians have been killed in two weeks of strikes, including 2,055 children, the health ministry said.
Israel’s police and the Shin Bet intelligence agency released footage from their interrogations of captured Hamas gunmen who took part in the Oct. 7 rampage of Israeli communities.
In the video clips, one handcuffed Hamas man sitting beside a desk is heard describing the orders they received regarding Israeli civilians – to kill the men and bring the women, children and elderly as hostages.
Another, with an injury on his face, said they were told their prize for bringing captives would be a new home and $10,000.