Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel will press forward with its military operation to eliminate Hamas in the Gaza Strip even as it works to negotiate with the group to secure the release of scores of hostages.
Netanyahu delivered the remarks during a Cabinet meeting that was convened for senior members of Israel’s government to discuss a deal to release dozens of hostages held by Hamas who were kidnapped during the organization’s terrorist attack on Oct. 7.
“We will continue the war until we achieve all our objectives: Eliminate Hamas, return all our abductees and missing persons and ensure that there will be no element in Gaza that threatens Israel,” he said in remarks translated from Hebrew.
The principal actors involved in the negotiations to release hostages, including President Biden, senior Qatari officials, Israel and Hamas have said a deal is imminent to release some hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza, as well as the release of some Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Netanyahu said he spoke with Biden over the last few days to improve the plan “to include more hostages” for release, without increasing the price Israel would have to pay.
“It was indeed improved,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also issued remarks at the start of the meeting that were released by the Office of the Prime Minister, signaling Israel would continue its military operations in Gaza to keep pressure on Hamas to release all of the hostages, the exact number of which is unknown but believed to be around 240.
“Immediately after this phase has been exhausted, the operation of the [Israeli military], the Shin Bet [security services] and all the forces will continue in full force,” Gallant said in remarks in Hebrew.
Benny Gantz, chair of the Blue and White Party and part of the wartime coalition, also spoke at the start of the meeting regarding the “necessary” military operation to be carried out in the south of Gaza.
The U.S. has supported Israel’s military campaign against Hamas but has increasingly raised concerns over the high death toll on the Palestinian side — between 11,000 and 13,000 people with about half believed to be children.
Senior U.S. officials have also said they have concerns over Israel expanding its military operation from the north of Gaza to its south, where it had earlier instructed Palestinians to evacuate. The U.S. has called for Israel to present a comprehensive plan on how it will protect Palestinian civilians as it advances its war against Hamas.