Benjamin Netanyahu rejects ‘delusional’ Hamas terms for hostage deal

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “delusional” Hamas’s conditions for a deal to release the hostages it holds in Gaza, warning that accepting the terms would lead to “another massacre”.

In a press conference on Wednesday night, Netanyahu instead vowed to continue Israel’s military offensive in Gaza until “total victory” was secured, saying his country would achieve this “within months”.

“We won’t settle for less,” he said. “Surrendering to Hamas’s delusional demands . . . will not only not lead to the release of the hostages, but will invite another massacre.”

Hamas has demanded a ceasefire lasting four and a half months, an Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, and the release of at least 1,500 Palestinian prisoners as its price for freeing all the hostages it still holds after its assault on Israel on October 7.

But Netanyahu insisted that only military pressure on Hamas would ensure the release of the roughly 130 Israelis still held by the Palestinian militant group, including the bodies of some believed to have died.

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He said he had told US secretary of state Antony Blinken — who held meetings with senior Israeli officials on Wednesday as part of a visit to several Middle Eastern countries — that after Hamas was toppled, “we will make sure Gaza is demilitarised forever”.

Blinken’s visit, during which he also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, is part of an intense diplomatic push led by the US and Qatar aimed at freeing the hostages and ultimately ending the war.

The US’s top diplomat said after Netanyahu’s press conference that despite the Israeli prime minister’s rejection of Hamas’s proposal, he still thought there was scope for a deal to be reached to release the hostages.

While there were some “clear non-starters” in Hamas’s proposal, “we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there”, Blinken said a media briefing in Tel Aviv. “These things are always negotiations . . . There’s invariably a back and forth.”

Hamas’s proposal came in response to a framework agreement brokered in Paris 10 days ago by officials from the US, Egypt, Qatar and Israel, which was designed to facilitate the release of the hostages and a six-week pause in hostilities.

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Hamas instead proposed a 135-day pause in fighting and a three-phase release of hostages, which it said would lead to a “complete and sustainable calm”.

After Netanyahu spoke, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said at a press conference in Beirut that “Netanyahu’s comments on the ceasefire proposal just now show he intends to pursue conflict in the region”.

“Hamas is prepared to deal with all options,” Hamdan added, saying that a delegation from Hamas’s political wing would visit Cairo to pursue ceasefire talks with Egyptian and Qatari officials.

Hamas killed about 1,200 people and took a further 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials, during its October 7 attack that triggered the war. About 110 of the hostages were released during a brief truce last year.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 27,500 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials, as well as displacing 1.7mn of the enclave’s 2.3mn people and rendering huge swaths of the territory uninhabitable.

Blinken reiterated his concerns about the number of Palestinians being killed by Israel’s offensive in Gaza, and said Israelhas the obligation to do everything possible to ensure that civilians are protected, and that they get the assistance they need”.

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He listed a number of steps that Israel should take in order to increase the amount of humanitarian support reaching civilians in Gaza, including reopening the Erez crossing in the north of the strip, expediting the flow of aid from Jordan, and ensuring deliveries of assistance were not blocked “for any reason by anyone”.

The debate over a Hamas hostage deal has come to dominate Israeli politics, with relatives of those in captivity demanding that Netanyahu’s rightwing government “pay any price” for the return of their loved ones.

Gadi Eisenkot, a member of Netanyahu’s five-person war cabinet, said last month that the release of the hostages should be the war’s main objective, above the destruction of Hamas.

But Netanyahu’s far-right allies, including firebrand national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have threatened to withdraw from the five-party governing coalition if a “reckless” deal is agreed.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/316fb086-d9c5-4923-9ffb-6004ea4fd356