Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas' terms for a deal that would see the release of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, calling the proposal “delusional.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is currently visiting Israel for the fifth time since the outbreak of the war in early October, referred to Hamas' conditions as “non-starters.”
Hamas has reportedly demanded a full withdrawal of IDF troops from the Gaza Strip, a months-long ceasefire and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails who were involved in terrorist activities and have “blood on their hands.”
In addition, Hamas has demanded that UNRWA, the Palestinian-run UN agency, will continue to maintain its role in Gaza, despite being fundamentally compromised.
In a press conference, Netanyahu said that Israel's capitulation to such terms would not lead to the release of more hostages but would only invite another Hamas massacre in the future.
“I would like to emphasize again – there is no other solution than total victory. If Hamas survives in Gaza, it is only a matter of time until the next massacre, and the evil axis of Iran and its proxies will continue its campaign of killing and aggression unhindered,” he stressed.
Nevertheless, the Israeli premier added that Israel will continue to pursue diplomatic avenues to potentially reach an acceptable agreement. This, while continuing to exert heavy military pressure on Hamas.
Secretary Blinken expressed a cautiously optimistic tone during a separate press conference in Tel Aviv, saying that Hamas’ response “creates space for agreement to be reached.” He promised to “work relentlessly until we get there.”
Hamas terrorists abducted 253 hostages from Israel's southern border communities near Gaza on Oct. 7. Of those, 132 are still being held captive by terrorists and their accomplices for more than four months now. At least 29 of them are presumed to be dead, with Hamas holding onto their bodies. Hamas has also been holding four hostages from before the war, two of whom are slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul who were killed in the 2014 war, Operation Protective Edge.
Addressing the families of the hostages, Netanyahu said: “Your loved ones are always standing before my eyes. I look into your eyes… I look at their pictures… my heart is torn and pinched. We will not stop working for the release of our hostages – even now.”
“Only a total victory will allow us to restore security to Israel – both to the north and the south,” he added.
The prime minister articulated his definition of a complete military victory over Hamas and noted that it is within reach within months.
According to the Israeli premier, the IDF has killed, wounded or arrested more than half of Hamas’ fighting forces in Gaza. It also shattered 18 out of 24 Hamas’ fighting battalions.
The coming weeks are expected to see more fighting in the southern portion of Gaza, Netanyahu hinted: In the city of Khan Younis – the main stronghold of Hamas – and the border city of Rafah close to Egypt - the last remaining strongholds of Hamas.
On Wednesday, Blinken said he has been pressing Israel “to strengthen civilian protection, to get more assistance to those who need it” in Gaza. He added that the death toll of “innocent civilians remains too high.”
The U.S. diplomat urged Israel to open an additional border crossing to facilitate a larger flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and expedite the delivery of aid that arrives from Jordan. He also stressed that Israel should “ensure that the delivery of life-saving assistance to Gaza is not blocked for any reason, by anyone.”
According to Israeli security assessments, up to 60% of the humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip gets diverted and stolen by Hamas operatives. Netanyahu ordered the Israeli military to come up with solutions to either prevent or diminish this phenomenon to the fullest possible extent.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.