IDF chief approves plans for 'continuation of the war'

Netanyahu vows imminent ‘painful blows,’ diplomatic pressure on Hamas to free hostages

Pre-Passover video message from PM says terror group has rejected all offers, ‘draws encouragement from the pressures directed at the Israeli government’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in a video message to the Israeli public on April 21, 2024. (Roi Avraham/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in a video message to the Israeli public on April 21, 2024. (Roi Avraham/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would “land additional and painful blows” on Hamas over Passover to increase pressure on the terror group to free the hostages it has held in the Gaza Strip for over six months.

In a pre-Passover video message shared online, Netanyahu framed the Israel-Hamas war in biblical terms, citing the rabbinic dictum that “in every generation, they rise up to destroy us” and stating that the absence of the hostages over the upcoming holiday “only strengthens our determination to bring them back.”

Israel launched its war on Hamas in Gaza after the terror group’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, in which close to 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were slain, and 253 were kidnapped to Gaza, where more than half are believed to remain.

A truce deal in November saw the release of 105 hostages, and a handful of others were freed by the military or let go separately. However, recent talks between the two sides have stalled, with Israel blaming Hamas’s demands that Israel end the war and withdraw its troops from Gaza, we well as the identity and number of Palestinian prisoners that the terror group is demanding be released in exchange for the hostages.

“Unfortunately, until now, all proposals for the release of our hostages have been rejected outright by Hamas,” Netanyahu said, pushing back against growing domestic criticism that he has not done enough to secure their freedom.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, and families of the hostages and other advocates have pressed the government to do more to reach a deal, warning that time is running out for those still in captivity.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government in Tel Aviv on April 20, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

“Instead of retreating from its extreme positions, Hamas builds on division within us. It draws encouragement from the pressures directed at the Israeli government. As a result, it only tightens its conditions for the release of our hostages,” Netanyahu asserted. “Therefore, we will land additional and painful blows on it – and it will happen soon.”

“In the coming days, we will increase the military and diplomatic pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to free our hostages and achieve our victory,” he said.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu said that “there is a date” for the IDF’s long-delayed ground operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah but, according to CNN, he reportedly decided to delay the much-anticipated offensive after Iran’s recent missile and drone strike against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi approved battle plans at the Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba, the military said.

The IDF said the “assessment of the situation and approval of plans for the continuation of the war” was attended by the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman and other officers.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (center) attends a meeting at the IDF’s Southern Command Headquarters in Beersheba, April 21, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The battle plans were thought to include the army’s looming Rafah offensive, as well as a possible operation in the central Gaza Strip, where Hamas still has a major presence.

Israel argues that it cannot defeat Hamas without launching a major offensive in Rafah to dismantle the terror group’s four battalions there. It says it will only launch the invasion after it evacuates the civilians in the city, ensures that they will be able to continue receiving humanitarian aid upon relocation and coordinates with Egypt, which borders Rafah and has expressed significant alarm over a potential operation.

Some analysts have speculated that the prime minister’s continuous pledges about an imminent Rafah operation are meant to hold Hamas’s feet to the fire in the ongoing hostage negotiations.

Smoke billowing during Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 9, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Following a virtual meeting between Israeli and US security officials on a potential ground offensive last Thursday, the two sides remained at odds over details of such an operation.

“US participants expressed concerns with various courses of action in Rafah,” the White House said. The comments were nearly identical to ones issued after an earlier virtual meeting on April 1.

However, Israel was said to have agreed to take Washington’s concerns into account and to hold a follow-up meeting soon, a US readout stated. No statement was issued by the Israeli side.

Washington has warned that a major military offensive in Rafah would put the Palestinians sheltering there at risk, wreak havoc on Gaza’s main humanitarian hub located in southern Gaza, and further isolate Israel internationally without actually boosting its security. They have instead pushed for more targeted operations against Hamas leaders while coordinating with Cairo to secure the Egypt-Gaza border.

Emanuel Fabian and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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