Won’t agree to Hamas demand to end war completely: Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel is prepared to temporarily halt the war in Gaza to gain the release of the hostages held there, but won’t agree to the Hamas demand to end the war completely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu(Reuters)

It’s unclear where the comments – and an exchange of barbs with the Hamas political leader – will leave the potential for a halt in the war, which is approaching the seven-month mark. Israel’s military continues to prepare for a potential assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

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Israel and Hamas have been negotiating for weeks through mediators toward a potential truce that would include the release of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

“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 settlements, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday. Hamas, not Israel, is preventing a deal, he added.

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Giving in to Hamas’ demands would be a “terrible defeat” for Israel, a huge victory for Hamas and Iran, and would project a “terrible weakness” to Israel’s friends and enemies alike, Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.

This weakness would distance any further peace agreement, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to potential normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia.

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

Hamas poitical chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, is bringing “seriousness and positivity” to the current talks.

Netanyahu, he said, wanted to “invent constant justifications for the continuation of aggression, expanding the circle of conflict, and sabotaging efforts made through various mediators and parties.”

Hamas conducted a series of contacts with mediators and with resistance factions, and held intensive meetings and consultations before sending its delegation to Cairo, he said.

Hamas is still keen to reach a comprehensive agreement that guarantees the withdrawal of Israel forces and achieves a serious prisoners/hostage exchange deal, Haniyeh added.

Lebanese Strike

Earlier on Sunday, an air strike blamed by Lebanon on Israel killed four civilians and wounded two others in a village in south Lebanon, prompting Hezbollah to fire rockets back across the border.

Israeli warplanes targeted Mays al-Jabal, causing “massive destruction,” Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported on Sunday. Israel hasn’t so far commented.

Hezbollah said it fired “tens” of rockets at Kiryat Shmona in response to Israel’s attack, the militant group’s Al-Manar TV reported.

Israeli forces have been exchanging cross-border fire with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah almost daily since the start of the campaign against Hamas in October. Tensions appear to have intensified with Iran-backed Hezbollah since Israel and Tehran began attacking each other directly last month.

Tens of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese have fled their homes near the borders due to ongoing cross-border fighting. That erupted around the time Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and triggering the war in Gaza that’s destroyed much of the enclave and killed more than 34,000 Palestinians.

Hezbollah is thought to have more than 100,000 fighters, many of whom are situated close to the border with Israel. The group has a far larger and more sophisticated arsenal of missiles and other weapons than Hamas. Both militant groups are considered terrorist organizations by the US.

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