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‘Press Qatar to press Hamas’ on hostage release, Netanyahu tells American Jewish leaders

Israel will 'finish job' in southern Gaza town of Rafah, prime minister says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the leaders of major American Jewish organizations to pressure Hamas to release the Israeli hostages by pressing its sponsor Qatar to exert its influence on the terror group.

“I urge you to press Qatar to press Hamas, because we want our hostages released,” Netanyahu said in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP), held in Jerusalem on Sunday.

CoP is an umbrella organization of over 50 American Jewish groups. Last November it helped organize the March for Israel in Washington, D.C. with around 290,000 attendants.

“The release of hostages can be achieved through strong military action and tough negotiations, very tough negotiations. That tough position has to involve the exertion of pressure. And the exertion of pressure is not merely on Hamas itself, but on those who can exert pressure on Hamas, beginning with Qatar,” Netanyahu explained.

“Qatar can press Hamas as no one else can. They host Hamas leaders. Hamas is dependent on them financially. I urge you to press Qatar to press Hamas, because we want our hostages released.”

The prime minister expressed hope that a deal could be reached soon but emphasized that Israel would continue the war until “total victory,” which he defines as the elimination of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the return of the hostages.

Netanyahu also spoke about Israel's plans to continue the ground operation into the town of Rafah, a move which has come under heavy international criticism.

“Once you destroy the battalions, there is no organized command and control structure. You’re left with individual terrorists, which we mop up with ground action. We cannot leave a quarter of Hamas’s terrorist battalions intact. No one would do that in the case of fighting ISIS. You wouldn’t leave a quarter of ISIS intact in a defined territory. You wouldn’t even think about that,” the prime minister said.

Rafah is the last major town in the Gaza Strip under full control of several intact Hamas battalions. Israel suspects that many of the remaining hostages are being held in tunnels under the city.

“America finished the job with its allies, we will finish the job here, with our brave soldiers,” Netanyahu said in his speech.

The presence of CoP in Jerusalem is especially important this year, Netanyahu told the attendees.

“I’ve been seeing you here year after year, but this year it’s different. Each year you come here to express your solidarity with the State of Israel, solidarity of the diaspora with the Jewish state, but this year, that solidarity is particularly important, because it’s an expression of unity between the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”

Hamas is estimated to still hold 134 Israeli hostages in captivity, following its surprise invasion and massacre of at least 1,200 men, women and children on Oct. 7.

In audio recordings leaked to Israeli media last month, Netanyahu called Qatar’s involvement in the hostage release negotiations “problematic,” prompting condemnation by Qatar’s Foreign Ministry.  

Speaking to his cabinet, Netanyahu said: “When I talk about Qatar, you don't hear me thanking Qatar. Have you noticed? I don't thank Qatar,” Netanyahu stated. “Why? Because Qatar, as far as I'm concerned, is not fundamentally different from the UN, it's not fundamentally different from the Red Cross, and in a certain sense it's even more problematic.” 

Qatar is a significant supporter of Hamas and has reportedly provided the terror organization with $1.8 billion since 2007. In addition, Qatar has hosted several Hamas senior leaders for a number of years.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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