Israel has informed the families of 32 hostages held in Gaza since the 7 October attack that their relatives are dead, it has been reported.
More than a fifth of the remaining hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza are dead, according to available intelligence collated by the Israeli military.
The confidential internal review, leaked to the New York Times, reportedly concluded that a minimum of 32 of the remaining 136 hostages captured by Hamas have died, with their families being informed.
The fate of a further 20 is also in question, amid unconfirmed intelligence they may also have died during their captivity.
The claims emerged as it was disclosed that the Israeli military has begun investigating dozens of incidents where Israeli soldiers may have broken the IDF’s own rules of conduct or violated international law governing conflict, mostly in incidents involving significant civilian casualties or the destruction of civilian infrastructure.
The circumstances of the hostage deaths remained unclear with the Israeli authorities suggesting to the paper that many of those deaths had occurred on 7 October during Hamas’s deadly mass incursion into southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed.
The disclosure that so many of the remaining hostages may actually be dead, and with a higher number than previously disclosed, seems certain to intensify scrutiny of the Netanyahu government’s controversial handling of the months-long hostage crisis, which has provoked fury among many hostage families.
While about half of those taken captive during the attack were subsequently released last year after a hostages-for-ceasefire deal, in which Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails were also released, negotiations for a second deal have dragged on for weeks.
The issue has been complicated by the piecemeal emergence of information about those taken hostage on 7 October in the intervening months, with the families of some of those who had been understood to have been taken alive being informed later that they had been killed.
It remained unclear, however, whether the Israel Defense Forces review meant that Hamas was holding the bodies of all of those 32 understood to be dead to bargain with in the future.
Under the ongoing negotiations for a second lengthy ceasefire, being conducted via mediators Qatar and Egypt, women, the sick, children and elderly captives would be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners with human remains slated for exchange later if the first phase is successful.
More than 240 hostages were initially believed captured by Hamas last October, however, the precise number of those believed to be held in Gaza has been constantly adjusted.
While senior Israeli officials have said that one of the goals of the war is to secure the release of hostages through military pressure on Hamas, Hamas has said on several occasions that hostages have died during Israeli strikes, claims that have not been independently verified.
However, during the course of a conflict that has claimed the lives of over 27,000 Palestinians in Gaza the IDF has so far retrieved only one hostage alive during a rescue mission while three others, men who had escaped their captors in northern Gaza, were killed by Israeli soldiers as they approached an Israeli position.
The disclosure of the hostages’ apparent deaths came as the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, visited Qatar on Tuesday on his latest Middle East crisis tour, as he sought a new ceasefire and “an enduring end” to the Israel-Hamas war.
Blinken’s visit also comes amid growing concerns in Egypt about Israel’s stated intentions to expand the combat in Gaza to areas on the Egyptian border that are crammed with displaced Palestinians.
Israel’s defence minister has said Israel’s offensive will eventually reach the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge and are now living in increasingly miserable conditions.
UN humanitarian monitors said on Tuesday that Israeli evacuation orders now covered two-thirds of Gaza’s territory, driving thousands more people every day towards the border areas.
Egypt has warned that an Israeli deployment along the border would threaten the peace treaty the two countries signed over four decades ago. Egypt fears an expansion of combat to the Rafah area could push terrified Palestinian civilians across the border, a scenario Egypt has said it is determined to prevent.
Blinken, who was on Tuesday meeting the Egyptian president, Abdel-Fatah el-Sisi, in Cairo, has said repeatedly that Palestinians must not be forced out of Gaza.
The disclosure of the IDF’s own investigation into potential violations of international humanitarian law, comes as Israel is facing mounting pressure in front of international courts including the international courtof justice, where it is facing an accusation of genocide.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report