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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “delusional” Hamas’s conditions for a deal to release the hostages it holds in Gaza, warning that accepting the terms would lead to “another massacre”.
In a press conference on Wednesday night, Netanyahu instead vowed to continue Israel’s military offensive in Gaza until “total victory” was secured, saying his country would achieve this “within months”.
“We won’t settle for less,” he said.
Netanyahu added that only military pressure on Hamas would ensure the release of the roughly 130 Israelis still held by the group, including the bodies of some believed to have died.
He said he had told visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that after Hamas was toppled, “we will make sure Gaza is demilitarised forever”.
This week Blinken said a hostage deal was the “best path to get an extended period of calm” in Gaza and was “indeed essential”.
Earlier on Wednesday, he added the US was looking “intensely” at Hamas’s proposal. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work and hopefully, being able to resume the release of hostages,” he said.
Hamas had demanded a ceasefire lasting four and a half months, an Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, and the release of at least 1,500 Palestinian prisoners as its price for releasing all the hostages it still holds after its assault on Israel on October 7.
The group’s proposal came in response to a framework agreement brokered in Paris 10 days ago by officials from the US, Egypt, Qatar and Israel that was designed to facilitate the release of hostages and a six-week pause in hostilities.
Hamas instead proposed a 135-day pause in fighting, which it said would lead to a “complete and sustainable calm”.
Hamas killed about 1,200 people and took a further 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials, during its October attack which triggered the war. About 110 of the hostages were released during a brief truce last year.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 27,500 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials, as well as displacing 1.7mn of the enclave’s 2.3mn people.