Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected a proposal for a Gaza war truce by Hamas, saying victory was within reach and only total defeat of the movement that rules the blockaded strip would ensure Israel’s security.
“We are on the path to total victory. Victory is within reach,” he said at a televised press briefing, adding that triumph was months away. “Only total victory will allow us to restore security in Israel, both in the north and in the south.”
The Israeli premier was speaking a day after Hamas said it had delivered its response to a proposed ceasefire deal for Gaza drawn up by US and Israeli spy chiefs and delivered to Hamas last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators. Hamas’s response offered a ceasefire in Gaza for four-and-a-half months, during which all hostages would be released, Israel would withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.
By paving a path for the return of the remaining 136 hostages, Israel says are still held in Gaza, the offer meets one of Israel’s declared war goals. However, it also challenges Israel’s main pledge to keep fighting until Hamas is destroyed.
“The day after is the day after Hamas. All of Hamas,” Netanyahu told a news conference, saying Israel’s military had killed or wounded more than half of Hamas’s armed forces in the four months of war.
Netanyahu is under competing pressure from far-right members of his coalition government, who say they will quit rather than endorse any deal that fails to eradicate Hamas, and from families of hostages who demand a deal to bring them home.
Israel’s air and ground offensive in Gaza has killed at least 27 500 Palestinians, displaced most of the strip’s 2.3 million population and plunged the blockaded coastal enclave into a humanitarian catastrophe, prompting a charge of genocide, denied by Israel, at the International Court of Justice.
The war was triggered by a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli towns and military bases on October 7, in which 1 200 people were killed and 253 seized as hostages.
During the only truce so far, which lasted a week at the end of November, 110 Israeli and foreign hostages were released in exchange for 240 Palestinians Israel was holding.