Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Wednesday that the war to destroy terror group Hamas will resume as soon as an ongoing process to secure the release of hostages held captive in the Gaza Strip comes to an end.
His vow to continue the fight was echoed by the other two members of the war cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, as well as by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, who all issued statements of readiness to immediately progress with the military campaign.
Meanwhile, with talks underway to potentially extend the current deal beyond Wednesday for another two or more days, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office said Israel will push for all children and civilian women hostages to be released through the current ceasefire deal before broadening negotiations to free adult male and soldier hostages.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas after it carried out a massive cross-border terror attack last month, invading from the Gaza Strip and slaughtering over 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians. Terrorists also abducted at least 240 as hostages.
Under the terms of a temporary truce, Hamas has every day released about 10 Israeli women and children held captive, in return for Israel pausing its offensive and allowing additional humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. Israel has also released three Palestinian security prisoners held in prisons in exchange for each hostage set free. The truce, which began last Friday, was approved by the cabinet to stretch to up to 10 days if Hamas continues to release hostages.
In a statement, Netanyahu said that destroying Hamas was still a prime objective along with returning hostages to Israel.
“From the beginning of the war, I set three goals: the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our abductees, and to ensure that Gaza will never again be a threat to Israel,” the prime minister said. “These three goals remain in place.”
He said the release of dozens of hostages during the truce over the past week was “a very great achievement” but added that “after this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted,” Israel will “unequivocally” return to the fight.
“There is no way we are not going back to fighting until the end,” he said. “This is my policy, the entire cabinet stands behind it, the entire government stands behind it, the soldiers stand behind it, the people stand behind it. This is exactly what we will do.”
Gallant, the defense minister, held a “special situational assessment” Wednesday with the heads of the military, Mossad and Shin Bet on the efforts to return Israelis held hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, his office said.
“We are making every effort to return the hostages and to fully complete the current process for returning all the abducted woman and children in Gaza,” Gallant said in a statement.
The minister added, “IDF forces in the air, sea and ground are ready for an immediate renewal of the fighting.”
Fellow war cabinet member Gantz said that Israel will continue to try to “make the most” of its 10-day hostage deal framework with Hamas, but is ready to renew its fight with a moment’s notice, hours ahead of the deal’s expiry.
Hamas said earlier that it is open to extending the deal past its current sixth day, and Israeli officials said that talks to do so were ongoing.
Vowing that Israel will give Hamas no quarter, Gantz said that the war will 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 battle plans for after the ceasefire during a meeting at Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba, the military said.
“We know what needs to be done, and are ready for the next stage,” Halevi said in remarks provided by the IDF.
The remarks came amid reports that negotiators of the truce, who included Qatar and the US, are seeking to secure a follow-up deal for a more permanent halt in the fighting and a larger release of hostages, including men and IDF soldiers who were captured on October 7.
The official from the Prime Minister’s Office said: “We have an agreement, the agreement concerns kids and women. We know the names of all the kids and all the women that are in the Gaza Strip. We don’t accept this suggestion that Hamas doesn’t know where they are…that it would have trouble finding them.”
She stressed that Israel “won’t abandon 27 people” who must still be freed 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 released in the first five days of the deal, and another 12 were expected under the deal framework on Wednesday, for a total of some 100 Israelis and foreigners freed since Hamas captured around 240 on October 7.
The official confirmed that Israeli, American, Egyptian and Qatari representatives are currently in Qatar to discuss extending the truce. Netanyahu on Tuesday disclosed that Mossad chief David Barnea was in Qatar for the talks.
If Hamas can release all the remaining women and children, “we’ll be more than eager to discuss the other groups that are still there,” the official said.
The official also dismissed reports of a potential all-for-all deal, whereby Israel would release all Palestinian prisoners it holds in exchange an end the war in exchange for the remaining hostages.
The official reiterated Israel’s twin war goals remain to uproot Hamas and free all of the terror group’s hostages, but brushed aside possibilities of coordinating Hamas’s mass exodus from Gaza, akin to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s 1982 retreat from Lebanon.
Hamas is “a more religious, jihadistic 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 Strip’s southern Khan Younis area, the official said that maneuvering within Gaza’s south is easier than in the badly battered north, and that “we have to make sure enough places can be safe zones” for civilians. Currently, the Israel Defense Forces has designated an area on Gaza’s southern coast, Al-Mawasi, as a humanitarian safe zone.
However, the PMO official reaffirmed Israel’s intention to target terrorists wherever they are and did not respond to questions about whether Israel would change its munitions or fundamental tactics when the war restarts.
Ground fighting has to date focused mainly on the northern part of the Gaza Strip, and for weeks Israel encouraged civilians to move to the southern, relatively safer area, though it has carried out airstrikes there too. Shortly before the temporary ceasefire went into effect, Israel’s top general said that the military was ready to move its battle to other areas of the Strip.
Israel and the US have repeatedly accused Hamas, which embeds itself in hospital and residential areas, of using Gazan civilians as human shields.
“I think we see the situation eye-to-eye with the American administration, probably with the whole world,” the official said, in that Israel “want[s] to focus on the operation against the terrorists and to make sure civilians are out of harm’s way.”