Israel will not agree to the “delusional demands” Hamas is making to release the 136 remaining hostages being held in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address on Wednesday night.
Bowing to the terrorist organization’s demands will lead to another massacre and a “major disaster” that no Israeli citizen will accept, he emphasized, speaking from his office in Jerusalem.
“We are on our way to total victory,” he declared. “Total victory over Hamas will not take years. It will take months. Victory is within reach.
“The IDF is working miracles and working methodically to achieve all the goals that we set,” said Netanyahu.
Hamas has given an official response to a hostages-for-ceasefire framework proposed by mediators, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced at a press conference in Doha on Tuesday.
“I would like to inform the media that we have received a reply from Hamas with regards to the general framework of the agreement with regard to hostages,” said Sheikh Mohammed. “We are optimistic, and we have delivered the response to the Israeli party.”
On Wednesday, Hamas presented a new counteroffer in response to Israeli objections to its demands for a permanent ceasefire and the release of many Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons.
The War Cabinet, which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza, is expected to meet on Thursday to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
Hamas’s latest proposal consists of a three-stage process spanning four and a half months. In the first phase, the terror group would release all of the remaining female hostages, as well as all those under the age of 19, the elderly and the sick. In exchange, Israel would release women and minor security prisoners.
The second stage would see the release of the remaining living male hostages, with bodies being released in the third stage, at the end of which an agreement would be reached to end the war. Negotiations towards ending the war would start in the first phase, according to Hamas’s proposal.
‘Position will lead to the continuation of war’
In the draft text, the terror group expresses “hope” for the release of 1,500 terrorists, a third of them “heavy” prisoners with life sentences.
The terrorist group is also demanding a total withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the start of the Strip’s rehabilitation and an increase in aid.
Israeli officials previously said Hamas’s demand for a permanent end to the war makes the draft a “non-starter.” The release of 1,500 terrorists, including murderers, is likewise out of the question, they said.
“Hamas’s answer was formulated so that Israel would refuse it. Their position will lead to the continuation of the war and [will lead] our forces to other places in Gaza—soon,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken during a meeting earlier on Wednesday, Israeli officials said.
“From day one, Israel has had hope that every hostage be released. We’re looking forward to the release of 136 Israeli hostages who are being held contrary to all the laws of war and armed conflict,” said Avi Hyman, spokesman for the National Public Diplomacy Directorate in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.
“There’s a historic precedent for when we last received hostages back to Israel [in November]. Israel applied tremendous military pressure on Hamas, and that’s what led to an agreement. … The IDF is applying huge military pressure against Hamas, bringing them to their knees, and we hope that they will soon acquiesce and release all 136 hostages,” Hyman added.
The IDF killed around 40 Palestinian terrorists during close-quarters combat in the southern Gaza Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis on Wednesday and arrested 50 gunmen.
A total of 105 hostages, mostly women and children, were released last year as part of a ceasefire deal that Hamas broke when it refused to hand over the last group of captives. The terrorist group had previously released four hostages, and Israeli forces freed one.
According to official Israeli figures, 136 hostages remain in Gaza. However, at least 31 of them are confirmed to have died, and Jerusalem is assessing unconfirmed information indicating that another 20 additional captives have also been killed.
The names of the deceased have not been released, a representative of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum stressed on Wednesday, noting that “there is nothing new in the status of the Bibas family, also after yesterday’s press release from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.”
Kfir Bibas, 1, has been held hostage since Oct. 7, when he was kidnapped along with his father, Yarden; his mother, Shiri; and his brother Ariel, 4. As of last month, Kfir has spent a quarter of his life in captivity.
Hamas and its terrorist allies abducted 253 people during their rampage across the northwestern Negev, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and wounding thousands more.
Some 50 % of Israelis are opposed to a hostage deal that would see an extended pause in fighting and the release of thousands of terrorists, according to a poll conducted by Channel 12 last week.