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'IDF will not leave Gaza'

Netanyahu: Israel won’t free ‘thousands of terrorists’ or withdraw IDF for hostage deal

While his right flank blasts a framework that Israel reportedly agreed to in Paris, Netanyahu says IDF will not leave Gaza; Hamas says it is studying proposal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, January 30, 2023. (The Times of Israel: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, January 30, 2023. (The Times of Israel: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

(THE TIMES OF ISRAEL) As reports emerged about a potential hostage framework deal with Hamas that includes an extended pause in the fighting and the freeing of a large number of Palestinian security prisoners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told students at a pre-military academy in the West Bank that Israel would not release “thousands of terrorists.”

“We will not remove the IDF from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists,” he pledged, speaking at the Bnei David academy in Eli. “None of this will happen. What will happen? Absolute victory!”

Multiple media reports indicated Israel agreed during a meeting in Paris on Sunday with the US, Qatar, and Egypt to a framework that would see all Israeli hostages released, starting with women, children, the elderly and the sick. There would be “phased pauses” in Israel’s war against Hamas while the process played out, the reports said.

Israel would also allow more aid into Gaza and would release very large numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

The framework reportedly does not provide for a permanent ceasefire, but also does not rule one out.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday issued a statement that did not deny that Israel had agreed to a framework for a hostage release, but did say that “the reports about a deal are incorrect and include [ostensible] conditions that are not acceptable to Israel.”

According to Channel 12 news, the offer centers around a 45-day pause in the fighting in exchange for 35-40 hostages in the first stage. Some 100-250 Palestinian prisoners would be released for each hostage.

Addressing the reports on Tuesday, Netanyahu pledged to the students that Israel “will not end this war with less than the achievement of all its goals. This means the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our hostages, and the promise that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel.”

“This is not another round, not another exchange of strikes, not another operation – [but rather] a complete victory,” he continued. “Nothing less than that. I am committed to it, our fighters are committed to it, and the absolute majority of the people are committed to it. We will not settle for less than total victory.”

Israeli protesters, including relatives of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas, wave national flags and hold placards during a demonstration aimed at blocking aid trucks from entering the Palestinian territory, on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the southern Gaza Strip on January 29, 2024. (The Times of Israel: Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Earlier on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid announced that his Yesh Atid party would give its backing to “any deal that brings the hostages home.”

The promise to “give the government a safety net” comes as right-wing politicians have strongly criticized many of the reported details of the framework.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Tuesday threatened to bring down the government if a “reckless” deal is reached with Hamas.

Lapid said bringing the abductees home is “our duty to them and their families,” or else “something fundamental will erode in our bond with one another, the bond between the nation and its land, and certainly the basic trust between citizens and the government.”

Hamas review

Also Tuesday, Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh said the terror group had received the ceasefire proposal put forward after the talks in Paris and will study it, adding that he will visit Cairo for discussions on the plan.

Haniyeh said Hamas’s priority is to end Israel’s military offensive and ensure a full pullout of Israeli forces from Gaza.

On Monday evening, Hamas appeared to reject the new framework for similar reasons.

The terror group issued a statement alongside a smaller armed group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, insisting Israel must halt its “aggression” and pull out of Gaza before any exchange deal takes place.

A senior Hamas official added that the terror group wants a “complete and comprehensive ceasefire” in Gaza.

A man walks with a vest bearing the logo of the UN at a school run by UNRWA in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023. (The Times of Israel: Said Khatib/AFP)

Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad, which is closely allied with Hamas, said Tuesday that it will not engage in any understandings regarding Israeli hostages without ensuring a comprehensive ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials told The Times of Israel on Monday that they are being cautious. “There is still a long road ahead,” one official said.

At a press briefing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he believed “the proposal is a strong one and a compelling one… but Hamas will have to make its own decisions.”

“We are in a much better place than we were a few weeks ago,” Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.

“Yesterday, good progress was made to get things back in shape and at least to lay a foundation for the way forward,” Al Thani added, saying the proposal would be relayed to Hamas.

He said that an agreement might lead to a permanent ceasefire “in the future.”

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 are still being held in Gaza. Among other terms, Hamas has demanded an end to the war and the withdrawal of all IDF forces as a condition for their release — demands Israel has rejected.

Protesters march to call for an immediate deal to free the hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2024. (The Times of Israel: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The war erupted on October 7 when Hamas-led terrorists from the Gaza Strip carried out a massive attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people in the south of the country, most of them civilians. Marauding terrorists massacred people, gang-raped women and tortured and mutilated their victims in border communities and at an outdoor music festival. Hamas and other terrorists also abducted 253 people of all ages, mostly civilians, into Gaza.

Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza and release the hostages. Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to continue the offensive until complete victory over Hamas is achieved.

Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure from the families of many hostages, who are demanding a deal to win their loved one’s release. Weekly rallies in Tel Aviv have called for a deal, including one held on Saturday night.

One hundred and five hostages were freed under a weeklong ceasefire deal in November in exchange for the release of Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel. That deal was mediated by Egypt and Qatar.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 28 of those still held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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