Hamas leader’s kin death raises hostage talks concerns; Biden vows support for Israel amid Iran threat

Israel has stepped up its security after the Iran threat

Iran Israel retaliation Israelis attend a protest calling for a deal and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a cabinet meeting, amid the ongoing conflict | Reuters

Israel targeting Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s kin has raised concerns about the ongoing hostage negotiations. Though truce talks in Cairo on Sunday did not heed any results, the US said that they had given a new proposal to Hamas and are waiting for their response.

Hamas has indicated it does not have 40 captives who are still alive to meet the "humanitarian" criteria for a proposed hostages-for-prisoners ceasefire agreement with Israel. 

The US, Qatar and Egypt are acting as key mediators between Israel-Hamas. In the first instance, women, children, and elderly or sick people- including five female Israeli soldiers-would be exchanged for an estimated 900 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel. 

In the first phase of the three-stage deal, the US is pressuring Israel to agree to release 900 Palestinian prisoners. It also includes the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza. The unexpected withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Gaza had paved the way for various speculations, with the focus expected to shift to the Rafah offensive, where around a million Palestinians are seeking refugee. 

According to Israel, about 30 of the remaining hostages are dead, which would leave 100 still alive with the majority of them Israelites. 112 hostages have been returned to Israel so far. Around 240 hostages were taken into Gaza by the Hamas during the October 7 attack.

Iran’s retaliation threat

Amid Iran's retaliation threat, President Joe Biden has promised Israel "ironclad" US support. Iran has threatened to launch a "significant attack" after Israel struck the Iranian consulate in Syria. 

"As I told Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel's security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad - let me say it again, ironclad," said Biden.

"We are going to do all we can to protect Israel's security," he added. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's leader said the Israeli attack in Damascus was equivalent to an attack on Iran itself.

"When they attacked our consulate area, it was like they attacked our territory," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech. "The evil regime must be punished, and it will be punished."

About 13 people were killed in the April 1 attack on the Iranian consulate building including senior Iranian military leaders. Among them was Brig-Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of Iran's elite Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon. 

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. US and Israeli forces in the region have been put on high alert in the days since. Last week the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) cancelled leave for soldiers serving with combat units and called up reservists to bolster air defence units.

Reportedly, the head of the US forces in the region, Gen Michael Kurilla, is to discuss the threat of a possible Iranian attack in talks with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Army Chief of Staff Lt Gen Herzi Halevi in Israel on Thursday. 

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