newsIsrael at War

Netanyahu to Hamas: We will not stop the fight

Israel cannot accept a situation in which the terror group regains control of the Gaza Strip, said the prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, March 31, 2024. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, March 31, 2024. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern message to Hamas on Sunday amid ongoing negotiations for the release of the hostages still held by the terror group in Gaza.

“While Israel showed this willingness [to compromise], Hamas remained entrenched in its extreme positions, chief among them the demand to withdraw all our forces from the Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas intact,” Netanyahu said following the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“The State of Israel cannot accept this. We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding communities, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country,” he continued.

Should that occur, “the next Oct. 7 is only a matter of time.”

Hamas terrorists killed some 1,200 people and abducted 252 during the Oct. 7 massacre; they are still holding 132.

Israel is prepared for a truce to free the remaining hostages, said Netanyahu.

“That’s what we did when we freed 124 abductees [during a truce in November], and we returned to fight—and that’s what we’re ready to do today as well,” he said.

Hamas politburo head Ismail Haniyeh released a statement after Netanyahu’s, saying his terrorist group is willing to reach a deal while blaming the Israeli prime minister for “the continuation of the aggression and the expansion of the circle of conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties.”

The prime minister’s message comes hours after Israeli officials on Saturday night vehemently denied reports that the government had agreed to end the war against Hamas as part of an emerging hostage deal.

According to the reports, the Biden administration had conveyed guarantees to Hamas that the agreement currently being discussed would culminate with a full Israel Defense Forces withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The proposal reportedly includes a first phase lasting 40 days during which up to 33 Israeli hostages in the humanitarian category—female, elderly and sick—would be freed in exchange for an IDF pullout from several areas of Gaza.

The second phase would reportedly last 42 days and include the release of all other living Israeli hostages and arrangements for a prolonged truce. The final phase would also last six weeks and include the exchange of bodies.

Hundreds of Palestinian terrorists would be released from Israeli jails over the course of the agreement.

In his video statement, Netanyahu pointed to the losses faced by the IDF and police—608 since Oct. 7 and 263 since the IDF entered Gaza on Oct. 27—saying, “Is this why heroes and heroines fell? Did we pay unbearably heavy prices for this? The answer is no! Surrendering to the demands of Hamas would be a terrible defeat for the State of Israel.”

Addressing the U.S. push for a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, the Israeli premier said that failure to press forward against Hamas would not lead to peace.

“This weakness will only bring the next war closer, and it will push the next peace agreement further away. Because alliances are not made with the weak and defeated, alliances are made with the strong and victorious,” he said.

“Therefore, Israel will not agree to Hamas’s demands, which mean surrender, and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved,” he said.

An Israel-Saudi deal is part of a larger agreement that would include a defense pact between Washington and Riyadh. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Saturday that without Israeli normalization—which Riyadh has conditioned on ending the war and an Israeli commitment to a path toward a Palestinian state—there will be no defense pact.

During the Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the IDF operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where the remaining Hamas battalions are located, will occur “very soon.”

Hamas officials told the London-based, Qatar-owned Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper on Sunday that “there will be no agreement without a complete cessation of the war and the withdrawal of the occupation from the entire Gaza Strip.”

Also on Sunday, the Cabinet approved two measures, the closure of Al Jazeera’s Israel branch and the construction of a new hospital in the Negev.

“The government headed by me unanimously decided: The incitement channel Al Jazeera will be closed in Israel,” tweeted Netanyahu after the meeting, while thanking Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi.

Karhi said, “Our orders will go into effect immediately. Too much time has passed and too many unnecessary legal hurdles for us to finally be able to stop Al Jazeera’s oiled incitement machine that harms the security of the country.”

The legislation states that the communications minister may act against a foreign channel that harms the state’s security, with the consent of the prime minister and the approval of the Cabinet or the government. The prime minister and Cabinet can approve the measure after security officials prove that the channel poses an actual security risk.

The measures enable authorities to order television providers to stop broadcasting the outlet, close its offices in Israel, seize its equipment, shut down its website and revoke press credentials for staff.

The new hospital is to be built in Beersheva and operated by Sheba Medical Center, and is to feature 600 beds. Officials hope it will open in 2028. The project has an estimated cost of 1.5 billion-2.5 billion shekels ($403.5 million to $672.6 million).

After the initial approval last month, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who allocated the funding, said, “This is an important and significant decision for Beersheva and the entire southern and Negev region, which will substantially improve medicine in the community and advance the provision of excellent health services to the residents of the south.”

He added, “This step is part of a number designed to increase investment in infrastructure in the periphery, and there is no doubt that it will lead to an increase in the population in these areas.”

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