newsIsrael at War

Netanyahu: ‘Too early to tell’ if Hamas will agree to hostage deal

The parties reportedly want to close the deal in the next two weeks, ahead of the start of Ramadan, which begins around March 10.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a conference in Jerusalem, Feb.18, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a conference in Jerusalem, Feb.18, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

It is “too early to tell” if the Hamas terrorist organization will agree to a ceasefire-for-hostages deal in the coming days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

“We won’t capitulate to Hamas’s delusional demands,” he stated in a televised address, vowing to return all 134 captives still held in the Gaza Strip “with or without a framework.”

“I demand to know the names of the hostages who will be released in the outline—I have not yet received this answer,” the premier added.

Going forward, the IDF campaign in Gaza will focus on rooting out Hamas in Khan Yunis, in the central part of the coastal enclave, and its southernmost city of Rafah, Netanyahu said. Palestinian civilians will be evacuated ahead of the looming military offensive in Rafah, reiterated the prime minister.

Israel’s War Cabinet over the weekend approved the travel to Qatar of a delegation to continue talks after “significant progress” was reported during initial meetings in Paris on Friday and Saturday.

The parties reportedly want to close the deal in the next two weeks, ahead of the start of Ramadan, which begins the evening of March 10.

However, Army Radio on Wednesday reported that Hamas derided the proposed outline as “a Zionist document” and objected to the fact that it did not call for a permanent end to the Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza, among other demands made by the terrorist group.

The U.S.-drafted proposal reportedly provides for a six-week pause in fighting, during which Hamas would free some 40 hostages in exchange for approximately 400 Palestinian terrorists jailed in Israel.

The negotiation team has returned to Israel “as planned,” Ynet reported on Thursday night. Political sources in Jerusalem told the outlet that while some progress was made, Hamas has yet to address some of the main points of contention.

If Israel receives “substantial answers” over the weekend, the delegation will return to Doha, the report added.

During a visit to troops stationed in northern Gaza earlier on Thursday, Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stressed that the Jewish state is only prepared to make military concessions vis-a-vis Hamas if that would result in the release of the hostages still held by the terror group.

“Only the return of hostages will bring about a temporary pause in the fighting,” Gallant told soldiers, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry. “We are closing in on Hamas. We are also preparing to operate in the central area of the Gaza Strip and in Rafah.”

“The result is very clear: They are getting weaker with each passing day, while we are getting stronger. We will keep going until we eliminate Hamas. This war will not end until Hamas is dismantled as a framework and eliminated as an organization,” the defense minister added.

Gallant visited Gaza as air-raid sirens sounded in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, warning of incoming rockets from Gaza. A spokesperson for the municipality told local media that at least two projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system.

Hamas and its terrorist allies abducted 253 people during their Oct. 7 rampage across the northwestern Negev, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and wounding thousands more.

In response to the massacre, the IDF on Oct. 27 launched a ground operation in Gaza, with the stated goal of destroying the terrorist group as a military and political entity in the enclave.

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