‘Israel won’t end war on Gaza for the return of all hostages’, official says

Top Israeli official tells families of captives that only certain categories could be possibly freed in the near future

MEE staff

An angry Israeli demonstrator reacts in front of police officers during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, calling for the release of hostages on 18 May (Reuters)
An angry Israeli demonstrator in front of police officers during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government 18 May (Reuters)

A senior Israeli official said on Thursday that the condition that all captives taken by Hamas on 7 October would be released would not be enough for the current government to end its onslaught on Gaza.

Speaking to families of captives, Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said he believes Israel would only be able to go ahead with the first stage of the current deal being negotiated with Hamas, which includes the freeing of 33 out of 121 hostages, who are mainly women, the elderly and the wounded.

“The first stage of the deal, the humanitarian phase, we will be able to achieve within a few short months… I don’t believe that this government will succeed in completing the entire deal. This government will not take a decision to stop the war for the return of all the hostages,” he was quoted as saying according to transcripts obtained by Channel 12.

Other stages of the deal have not yet been agreed upon, which include Hamas’s approval to free men and soldiers, and the corpses of those who died in custody.

The Times of Israel reported that Hanegbi “insulted” the relatives of several captives during a heated meeting, the transcripts of which were leaked to Israeli Channel 12.

The remarks also imply that the Israeli government believes that Hamas will refuse to free all remaining hostages unless it ends its assaults on the besieged enclave.

Ceasefire talks stalled

On Thursday, Hamas told meditators it will continue to boycott ceasefire talks while Israel lays siege to the Gaza Strip, but is ready to agree to a hostage deal if Israel ends its offensive on the besieged enclave.

“Today, we informed the mediators of our clear position that if the occupation stops its war and aggression against our people in Gaza, we are ready to reach a complete agreement that includes a comprehensive exchange deal,” Hamas said in a statement.

Hangebi’s comments reaffirmed Israel’s insistence to carry on with its war on Gaza, even if it means that all captives won’t be released.

“If the hostages don’t return within weeks or a few short months, we have no alternate plan… we will continue to fight in Gaza and, in the north, and only then will we reassess,” he reportedly said.

An Israeli participant responded to him saying: “Well, then we’re lost,” with him replying: “That’s correct.”

Ceasefire talks have been stalled since 6 May, when Hamas had agreed to a proposal put forward by Egypt and Qatar. Israel rejected the deal and that night launched its invasion of Rafah, a southern Gaza border town where about 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Talks on a ceasefire were due to resume this week, but Hamas told international mediators on Tuesday it was ending its participation following Sunday’s “massacre” in Rafah by Israel.

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