Israel won’t accept Hamas’s latest terms for a hostage deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday but he did not rule out continued negotiations for an acceptable agreement to secure the release of the remaining 136 hostages held in the enclave
“From what I saw, even you would say no” to Hamas’s offer, Netanyahu told the reporter who quizzed him on the proposal. It included a demand for a permanent ceasefire, an IDF withdrawal from Gaza. and the release of terrorists jailed for killing Israelis.
“Surrendering to the delusional demands of Hamas ..will not lead to the release of the hostages. It will only invite another massacre,” Netanyahu said, referencing the October 7 attack against southern Israel in which over 1,200 people were killed and another 253 were seized as hostages.
“I would like to emphasize again – there is no other solution than total victory. If Hamas survives in Gaza, it is only a matter of time until the next massacre,” Netanyahu stressed.
“The evil axis of Iran and its affiliates will continue unhindered its campaign of killing and aggression,” Netanyahu explained.
“We have no obligation to the crazy terms Hamas is talking about.. including the part about [releasing terrorists] with “blood on their hands,” Netanyahu said, stressing that “we have not committed” to that.
There is supposed to now be “a process of negotiation through mediators but from what I have seen, Hamas is not there.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issued a press statement explaining that “Hamas’ answer was formulated so that Israel would refuse it.
“Its position will lead to the continuation of the war, and send our forces to other places in Gaza, soon,” he said, as he hinted at a military operation in Rafah by the Egyptian border.
Still, Hamas official Osama Hamdan said in a press conference on Wednesday that it was sending a delegation headed by Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya to Cairo Thursday to pursue ceasefire talks with Egypt and Qatar.
Hamas: Netanyahu comments are form of ‘political bravado’
Another Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that “Netanyahu’s comments are a form of political bravado, indicating his intention to pursue the conflict in the region,” Abu Zuhri said. “The movement (Hamas) is prepared to deal with all options.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who is in Israel as part of his whirlwind Middle East tour to advance a hostage agreement and a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia put a more optimistic spin on the situation.
He told President Isaac Herzog that the US and Israel were looking “intensely” at Hamas’s response.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work and hopefully, being able to resume the release of hostages that was interrupted so many months ago.”
Blinken has hoped that a prolonged pause to the war would lead to a ceasefire. At the Jerusalem press conference on Wednesday night, Netanyahu stressed, that Israel’s military campaign to oust Hamas from the enclave must continue.
“The continuation of military pressure is a necessary condition for the release of the hostages,” Netanyahu said as he stressed that victory was within his grasp.
The Israeli and American officials spoke out one day after Hamas issued its counterproposal to a US-Israeli framework understanding by which to free the hostages.
Hamas’s insistence on a prolonged pause to the war of 135 days, a permanent ceasefire, and a complete IDF withdrawal from the enclave, doused optimism that the release of the captives was around the corner.
It pointed to the complexity of what is likely to be a protracted process.
Hamas called for a three phased process in exchange for a permanent ceasefire, according to a document seen by Reuters
During the first 45-day phase, all Israeli female hostages, males under 19 and the elderly and sick would be released. In exchange Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli jails on security-related charges would be freed and the IDF would withdraw from populated areas in Gaza.
Implementation of the second phase would not begin until the sides conclude “indirect talks over the requirements needed to end the mutual military operations and return to complete calm.”
The second phase would include the release of remaining male hostages and full Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza. Bodies and remains would be exchanged during the third phase.
A source close to the negotiations said the Hamas counterproposal did not require a guarantee of a permanent ceasefire at the outset, but that an end to the war would have to be agreed upon during the truce before final hostages were freed.
A second source said Hamas still wanted guarantees from Qatar, Egypt, and other friendly states that the ceasefire would be upheld and not collapse as soon as the hostages were freed.
“They want the aggression to stop and not temporarily, not where (the Israelis) take the hostages and then the Palestinian people live in a grinder.”
Hamas’s proposal – a response to an offer sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and cleared by Israel and the United States – came during the biggest diplomatic push yet for an extended halt to the fighting.
Hamas has asserted that Israel’s military campaign to destroy it has caused over 27,000 fatalities in Gaza. Israel has claimed that over 9,000 of them are combatants.
A temporary week-long truce in November saw the release of 105 hostages in exchange for the release of some 240 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails. Another five hostages were freed separately and the bodies of 11 captives were returned to Israel.
Earlier in the day, Blinken met with Netanyahu for what the Prime Minister’s Office described as a “lengthy private” meeting.
They were joined for an expanded meeting with US and Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Mossad Chief David Barnea, and IDF Chief-of-Staff Herzl Halevi. Blinken also met separately with Gallant.
Six women who were kidnapped to Gaza in October and were released in November ceasefire held a press conference right after Netanyahu, in which they pled with him to accept Hamas’ terms.
Adina Moshe, 72, from Nir Oz said, as if she was addressing Netanyahu, ”If you continue in this line of destroying Hamas, there will be no hostages left to save.” It’s presumed that 31 of the hostages held in Gaza are dead, and relatives of the captives fear that more will die if there is a protracted negotiation process.
Sharon Aloni-Kunyo, 34, from kibbutz Nir Oz, who was released with her two three-year-old daughters, Yuli and Emma, from captivity, is still waiting for her husband, David, to return.
She said, “136 hostages are waiting without oxygen, food, or hope to be saved,” adding, “The price is high, but abandoning the hostages is a historical stain.”
Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.