Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Wednesday that the war aimed at destroying the Hamas terror group will resume as soon as the ongoing process to secure the release of hostages held captive in the Gaza Strip is completed.
His vow to continue the fight was echoed by the two other members of the war cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, as well as IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, all of whom have issued statements of immediate availability. progress of the military campaign.
Meanwhile, with negotiations underway to potentially extend the deal beyond Wednesday for two or more days, an official in the prime minister’s office said Israel would push for all civilian children and women hostages be released under the current ceasefire agreement before expanding negotiations to release adult males and soldiers held hostage.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas after it carried out a massive cross-border terrorist attack last month, invading from the Gaza Strip and massacring more than 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians. The terrorists also took at least 240 people hostage.
Under a temporary truce, Hamas released about 10 Israeli women and children held captive each day in exchange for Israel suspending its offensive and allowing additional humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. Israel also released three Palestinian security prisoners held in prison in exchange for each hostage released. The truce, which began last Friday, was approved by the cabinet to extend for up to 10 days if Hamas continues to release hostages.
In a statement, Netanyahu said the destruction of Hamas remained a primary goal, as did the return of the hostages to Israel.
“From the start of the war, I set myself three goals: the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our abductees and ensuring that Gaza is never again a threat to Israel,” the prime minister said. “These three goals remain in place.”
He said the release of dozens of hostages during last week’s truce was “a very big achievement,” but added that “once this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted,” Israel will return ” unequivocally” in combat.
“It is impossible that we will not resume the fight until the end,” he said. “This is my policy, the whole cabinet supports it, the whole government supports it, the soldiers support it, the people support it. This is exactly what we will do.
Gallant, the defense minister, held a “special situational assessment” Wednesday with the heads of the army, Mossad and Shin Bet on efforts to return Israelis held hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza , his office said.
“We are doing everything possible to return the hostages and to fully complete the current process of returning all women and children kidnapped in Gaza,” Gallant said in a statement.
The minister added: “The IDF forces in the air, at sea and on the ground are ready for an immediate resumption of fighting.”
Gantz, another war cabinet member, said Israel would continue to try to “make the most” of its 10-day hostage deal with Hamas, but was ready to return to fighting with a few hours’ notice, a few hours before the agreement expires.
Hamas said earlier it was willing to extend the deal beyond its current sixth day, and Israeli officials said talks to do so were ongoing.
Vowing that Israel will give Hamas no quarter, Gantz said the war would continue until residents of Israel’s border communities, evacuated in light of the fighting, “can safely return” to their homes.
Meanwhile, army commander Halevi approved post-ceasefire battle plans during a meeting at the Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba, the army said.
“We know what needs to be done and are ready for the next step,” Halevi said in remarks provided by the IDF.
The remarks come amid reports that truce negotiators, including Qatar and the United States, are seeking a follow-up deal for a more permanent halt to fighting and a greater release of hostages, including men. and IDF soldiers who were captured. on October 7.
The head of the Prime Minister’s Office said: “We have an agreement, the agreement concerns children and women. We know the names of all the children and women in the Gaza Strip. We do not accept the idea that Hamas does not know where they are… and would have difficulty finding them.”
She stressed that Israel “will not abandon 27 people” who have yet to be released under the current framework “in order to discuss a new agreement that would also be violated in the same way.”
Sixty women and children were freed in the first five days of the deal, and 12 more were expected as part of the deal on Wednesday, for a total of about 100 Israelis and foreigners freed since Hamas captured them. about 240 on October 7.
The official confirmed that Israeli, American, Egyptian and Qatari representatives were currently in Qatar to discuss the extension of the truce. Netanyahu revealed Tuesday that Mossad chief David Barnea was in Qatar for the negotiations.
If Hamas manages to free all the remaining women and children, “we will be more than eager to discuss the other groups that are still there,” the official said.
The official also dismissed reports of a possible all-out deal in which Israel would release all Palestinian prisoners it holds in exchange and end the war in exchange for the remaining hostages.
The official reiterated that Israel’s twin war goals remain to uproot Hamas and free all of the terrorist group’s hostages, but he ruled out the possibility of coordinating Hamas’ mass exodus from Gaza, as withdrawal of the PLO from Lebanon in 1982.
Hamas is “a more religious jihadist organization,” the official said, adding that its Gaza-based leader, Yayha Sinwar, was “a psychopath” and not a rational actor.
Regarding Israel’s expected offensive in the southern Khan Younis area, the official said maneuvers in southern Gaza are easier than in the hard-hit north, and that “we must ensure that sufficient numbers of places can be safe zones” for civilians. Currently, the Israel Defense Forces have designated an area on the southern coast of Gaza, Al-Mawasi, as a humanitarian security zone.
However, the PMO official reiterated Israel’s intention to target terrorists wherever they are and did not respond to questions about whether Israel would change its munitions or basic tactics when the war would resume.
Ground fighting has so far focused mainly on the northern part of the Gaza Strip, and for weeks Israel has encouraged civilians to move to the relatively safer southern area, although there are also carried out airstrikes. Shortly before the temporary ceasefire took effect, the Israeli general said the army was ready to shift its fighting to other areas of the Gaza Strip.
Israel and the United States have repeatedly accused Hamas, which establishes itself in hospitals and residential areas, of using Gaza civilians as human shields.
“I think we see the same eye as the American administration, probably with the whole world,” the official said, as Israel “wants to focus on the operation against the terrorists and ensure that civilians are not killed. out of danger.