Gallant: Hamas uninterested in deal, Rafah op to come soon

Netanyahu: Ending war as part of hostage deal would keep Hamas as threat to Israel

Prime minister blames terror group’s ‘extreme position’ in demanding withdrawal of all IDF forces for holding up deal; Haniyeh accuses Israel of ‘sabotaging’ talks in Cairo

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a video statement, May 5, 2024 (Screen grab via Government Press Office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a video statement, May 5, 2024 (Screen grab via Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on his rejection of Hamas’s demand for an end to Israel’s war against it in exchange for freeing the hostages it holds, saying Sunday that such a move would keep the Palestinian terror organization in power in Gaza and pose a threat to Israel.

His remarks came as Hamas leaders begin a second day of talks for a truce and hostage deal with Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo, with Palestinian officials saying there is no apparent progress as the terror group maintains its demand that any agreement must end the war. Israel is waiting for a Hamas response to the latest truce proposal which the US has said is “extremely generous” to Hamas.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh blamed Netanyahu for “sabotaging” the ongoing talks, but Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said it was becoming clear that the terror group had no intention of agreeing to a deal anytime soon.

Netanyahu said Israel was willing to pause fighting in Gaza in order to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas since October 7, believed to number 128, with several dozen of them believed dead.

“But while Israel has shown willingness [to compromise], Hamas remains entrenched in its extreme positions, primary among them the demand to remove all our forces from the Gaza Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas in power,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Ending the war, and leaving Hamas intact — the State of Israel cannot accept that,” he said. “We are not prepared to accept a situation in which the Hamas brigades come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel.”

A person walks past photographs of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, May 5, 2024. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Such a situation, he warned, would enable the terror group to fulfill its promise to carry out another attack like the deadly October 7 assault that opened the war.

“Surrendering to the demands of Hamas would be a terrible defeat for Israel,” Netanyahu said. “It would be a huge victory for Hamas, for Iran, for the entire axis of evil. Therefore, Israel will not agree to Hamas’s demands which mean surrender, and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved.”

The prime minister also attacked the flurry of media reports about the hostage talks, saying they “are causing damage to the negotiations for the release of the abductees, as well as unnecessary suffering for the families of the hostages who are going through a nightmare.”

“Contrary to these publications, it is Hamas that is thwarting the release of our hostages,” he said, apparently referencing reports that the Israeli side is standing in the way of a deal.

In his statement, Haniyeh said that the terror group was eager to reach a comprehensive ceasefire that would end Israeli “aggression,” guarantee Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and achieve a serious hostage-swap deal.

The Qatar-based Haniyeh also blamed Netanyahu for “the continuation of the aggression and the expansion of the circle of conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties.”

File: Ismail Haniyeh, the Doha-based political bureau chief of Hamas, speaks to the press after a meeting with the Iranian foreign minister in Tehran on March 26, 2024. (AFP)

Also Sunday, Gallant said Israel has identified signs that Hamas is not interested in a hostage deal, and in turn, the military will launch its offensive in southern Gaza’s Rafah in “the near future.”

“We have clear goals for this war. We are committed to the elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages. We have given [Hamas] time and we wanted to reach a situation where we would realize the release of the hostages as quickly as possible, with a certain delay in the operational action, because the hostages are in a difficult situation and we need to make every effort to release them,” Gallant said to troops in central Gaza’s Netzarim Corridor.

“We have identified alarming signs that Hamas actually does not intend to go for any agreement framework with us,” he added.

Israel, which holds the destruction of Hamas in the Gaza Strip as a key objective of the military campaign it launched in response to the Palestinian terror group’s devastating October 7 attack, has steadfastly maintained that any agreement on a halt in hostilities alongside the release of hostages abducted during the Hamas assault will only be temporary.

One Palestinian official close to the mediation effort said the Hamas delegation had arrived in Cairo with a determination to reach a deal “but not at any price.”

“A deal must end the war and get Israeli forces out of Gaza and Israel hasn’t yet committed it was willing to do so,” the official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

A Hamas source, cited as making similar remarks to the Arabic language Qatar-owned Al-Arabiya outlet, also said Netanyahu was repeatedly vowing to go ahead with an offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in order to “put pressure and obstruct reaching an agreement, for personal reasons.”

Israel’s refusal to agree to an end to the war as part of the hostage agreement could blow up the negotiations and “Netanyahu is the one who bears full responsibility for this disruption,” the source said.

Another Palestinian official told Reuters that the negotiations are “facing challenges because [Israel] refuses to commit to a comprehensive ceasefire,” but added that the Hamas delegation was still in Cairo in the hope mediators could press Israel to change its position.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the government outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israeli and US officials told CNN that if Hamas were to accept the current proposal, it would take several days to finalize a deal.

With Arab and American mediators pressing intensely for a temporary ceasefire, several reports Saturday said Hamas was prepared to accept the latest proposal in light of assurances from the United States that there will be a “sustainable cessation” of the war.

It was not clear whether such a response would be a straightforward approval of the proposal on offer, or one that comes with various caveats.

However, an Israeli official — widely reported to be Netanyahu — said the same day that Israel would “under no circumstances” accept a deal that would end the war and had not authorized mediators to promise an end to the war.

Previous negotiations stalled in part due to Hamas’s demand for a permanent ceasefire and Netanyahu’s vows to crush the group’s remaining fighters in the far-southern city of Rafah, where half of Gaza’s population is sheltering.

Israel has yet to send a delegation to Cairo. An Israeli official said Saturday it would do so only if there was “positive movement” on the proposed framework.

Qatar, where Hamas has a political office, and Egypt are trying to mediate a follow-up to a brief November ceasefire, amid international dismay over the soaring death toll in Gaza and the plight of its 2.3 million inhabitants.

There have been varying but largely similar reports on aspects of the proposal. Israel has reportedly given a preliminary nod to terms that include the return of 33 hostages in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and a 40-day truce, in the first phase of a three-phase deal.

Lebanese report: Israel’s offer would see partial IDF pullback in 1st phase of deal

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday, demanding Netanyahu accept a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that would see the hostages brought home. There have been weekly rallies urging the government to follow that course of action.

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