Netanyahu Rejects Hamas Cease-Fire Demands, Vows to Fight Until ‘Absolute Victory’ - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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Netanyahu Rejects Hamas Cease-Fire Demands, Vows to Fight Until ‘Absolute Victory’

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Israel's President Isaac Herzog talk during their meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)
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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Hamas demands for a cease-fire and vowed to press ahead with Israel’s military offensive in Gaza until achieving “absolute victory.”

Netanyahu made the comments Wednesday shortly after meeting the visiting U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who has been traveling the region in hopes of securing a cease-fire agreement.

“We are on the way to an absolute victory,” Netanyahu said, adding that the operation would last months, not years. “There is no other solution.”

He ruled out any arrangement that leaves Hamas in full or partial control of Gaza. He also said that Israel is the “only power” capable of guaranteeing security in the long term.

Netanyahu also called for the replacement of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Blinken was scheduled to give a news conference later Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State’s Visit

Blinken said Wednesday that “a lot of work” remains to bridge the gap between Israel and Hamas on terms for a new cease-fire and hostage-release deal after the militant group put forward conditions that run counter to Israel’s war goals.

Hamas laid out a detailed three-phase plan to unfold over 4 1/2 months, responding to a proposal drawn up by the United States, Israel, Qatar, and Egypt. The plan stipulates that all hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including senior militants, and an end to the war.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’ governing and military abilities one of its wartime objectives, and the proposal would effectively leave Hamas in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities. President Joe Biden said Hamas’ demands are “a little over the top” but that negotiations will continue. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Blinken, and the two discussed the latest efforts to free the hostages. Both men were scheduled to hold separate news conferences later Wednesday.

The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed over 27,000 Palestinians, leveled entire neighborhoods, driven the vast majority of Gaza’s population from their homes, and pushed a quarter of the population to starvation.

Iran-backed militant groups across the region have conducted attacks, mostly on U.S. and Israeli targets, in solidarity with the Palestinians, drawing reprisals as the risk of a wider conflict grows.

Israel remains deeply shaken by Hamas’ Oct 7 attack, in which militants burst through the country’s vaunted defenses and rampaged across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250, around half of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.

Netanyahu says the war, now in its fifth month, will continue until “total victory” over Hamas and the return of all the remaining hostages.

Blinken, who is on his fifth visit to the region since the war broke out, is trying to advance the cease-fire talks while pushing for a larger postwar settlement in which Saudi Arabia would normalize relations with Israel in return for a “clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

But the increasingly unpopular Netanyahu is opposed to Palestinian statehood, and his hawkish governing coalition could collapse if he is seen as making too many concessions.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work,” Blinken told Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog.

Misery Deepens in Devastated Gaza

There is little talk of grand diplomatic bargains in Gaza, where Palestinians yearn for an end to fighting that has upended every aspect of their lives.

“We pray to God that it stops,” said Ghazi Abu Issa, who fled his home and sought shelter in the central town of Deir al-Balah. “There is no water, electricity, food or bathrooms.” Those living in tents have been drenched by winter rains and flooding. “We have been humiliated,” he said.

New mothers struggle to get baby formula and diapers, which can only be bought at vastly inflated prices if they can be found at all. Some have resorted to feeding solid food to babies younger than 6 months old despite the health risks it poses.

The Palestinian death toll from four months of war has reached 27,707, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. That includes 123 bodies brought to hospitals in just the last 24 hours, it said Wednesday. At least 11,000 wounded people need to be urgently evacuated from Gaza, it said.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its figures but says most of the dead have been women and children.

Israel has ordered Palestinians to evacuate areas that make up two-thirds of the tiny coastal territory. Most of the displaced are packed into the southern town of Rafah near the border with Egypt, where many are living in squalid tent camps and overflowing U.N.-run shelters.

Hamas has continued to put up stiff resistance across the territory, and its police force has returned to the streets in places where Israeli troops have pulled back. Hamas is still holding over 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead, with the vast majority killed on Oct. 7.

Israelis Agonize Over Fate of Captives

Israelis are intensely focused on the plight of the hostages, with family members and the wider public demanding a deal with Hamas, fearful that time is running out. Israeli forces have only rescued one hostage, while Hamas says several were killed in Israeli airstrikes and failed rescue missions.

More than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were freed during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Thousands of Israelis have taken part in weekly protests calling for the release of the hostages and demanding new elections. But Netanyahu is beholden to far-right coalition allies who have threatened to bring down the government if he concedes too much in the negotiations.

That could spell the end of Netanyahu’s long political career and expose him to prosecution over long-standing corruption allegations.

 

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