The Palestinian militant group does not seek to hold US citizens longer than other hostages, a senior official has said Personnel work near a helicopter that transported Israeli hostages released by Hamas at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, November 28, 2023. © AP / Leo Correa

Hamas is not using kidnapped Americans for “leverage” in hostage negotiations with Israel, a top White House spokesman has said, noting there is no sign the Palestinian militant faction intends to “play some sort of game” with its US captives.

Asked about the status of Hamas’ American prisoners at a press briefing on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the number of US nationals currently held in Gaza is “pretty small,” adding that hostage talks have so far focused on women and children.

“There’s no indication at all that Hamas is trying to use leverage or something to keep Americans from getting out,” Kirby said. “So, there’s no indication that Hamas is trying to play some sort of game here in terms of the Americans.”

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The spokesman went on to state that Hamas may not have “ready access to everybody in a moment’s notice,” adding that it is unlikely all US nationals are being held in the same location in Gaza.

Israel launched weeks of heavy airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave and escalated a ground incursion in response to Hamas’ deadly October 7 terrorist attack, which killed around 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians. Gaza’s Health Ministry has placed the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli operations at over 15,000.

However, the fighting has seen several brief pauses over the last week thanks to hostage negotiations between the warring parties, with Hamas agreeing to exchange Israeli and foreign citizens for Palestinians prisoners held in Israel.

Israeli officials have vowed to halt military operations in Gaza to allow the trade to take place, as well as for aid to enter the besieged enclave.

The latest swap took place on Tuesday evening, when Hamas released ten additional Israeli captives in exchange for 30 Palestinian prisoners. The halt in the fighting has been extended to Wednesday, raising the prospect for further negotiations. To date, Hamas has freed a total of 81 hostages, while Israel has released 180 Palestinians in its custody.

The original deal to suspend hostilities was struck as the UN and human rights groups have increasingly accused Israel of indiscriminate strikes on Gaza. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said on Monday that the pause in the fighting “should be extended to make it sustainable and long-lasting while working for a political solution.” However, Israel and its top ally, the US, insist that a longer ceasefire would only help Hamas, instead favoring shorter ‘pauses’. (RT)