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Netanyahu says return of hostages validates strategy

The prime minister defended his decision to freeze fighting to free captives.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a televised address, Dec. 2, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a televised address, Dec. 2, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined Israel’s war goals and defended his decision to halt fighting for the sake of releasing hostages at a press conference at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening.

The prime minister said Israel’s goals for the war were threefold: 1) return all the hostages, which he called a “sacred mission”; 2) destroy Hamas; and 3) ensure that Gaza never again becomes a threat to Israel and that no element there “educates its children for terrorism, supports terrorism, finances terrorism and calls for the destruction of Israel.”

He noted that Israel had managed to retrieve 110 captives—86 Israeli citizens and the rest foreign nationals—from the hands of Hamas, which kidnapped approximately 240 during its murderous Oct. 7 attack.

An estimated 137 persons remain in captivity. Of those, 20 are women and 117 are men. They include 126 Israelis and 11 foreigners.

Netanyahu defended his decision to freeze fighting for the sake of returning hostages. “I deliberated greatly before the decision. I asked myself how does one negotiate with the Satan who murdered, raped, dismembered and burned human beings, women, children and infants, a Satan to whom human life has no value,” he said.

“But at the same time, it was clear to me that we could find a way to rescue dozens of hostages from the Satan’s claws. I was not prepared to give up on that possibility,” he added.

The prime minister described tough round-the-clock negotiations, ongoing talks with U.S. President Joe Biden and pressure Israel applied around the world, which in the end “doubled the number of those who were released.

“Only one week ago this seemed unbelievable, completely imaginary. And today they are here, wrapped in the love of their families and of the nation. How great is the joy of their return, and how great is the pain of those who were murdered amidst terrible brutality and of those who have not yet returned,” Netanyahu said.

A temporary truce struck between Israel and Hamas for the release of hostages held for seven days, from Nov. 24 until the morning of Dec. 1. It collapsed after Hamas failed to release more women hostages as promised.

Netanyahu said Israel’s War Cabinet directed fighting to resume on Friday morning and in the last 24 hours destroyed more than 400 Hamas terrorist targets, including extensive aerial attacks in Khan Yunis, a city in the south of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu promised to do all he could to bring the remaining hostages home. He stressed that Hamas would not have released any hostages if not for the IDF’s pressure.

“The ground incursion was essential in order to bring about the results up to now, and it is necessary to bring about future results,” he said.

The prime minister also spoke of the threat from Hezbollah in the north. “We are thwarting terrorist cells, pushing the enemy away from our border and destroying war materiel,” he said.

“Let it be clear: We are committed to restoring security both in the south and the north. If Hezbollah makes a mistake and enters into a broad war, it will be destroying Lebanon with its own hands,” he said.

“Citizens of Israel, we are in the midst of a difficult and bitter war but there is no war more just. It is a war for our home,” Netanyahu said.

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