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Israel-Gaza ceasefire talks: Netanyahu says Israel cannot accept Hamas demands

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will not accept Hamas’s demands for Israel to end the Gaza war.

It comes as negotiators were resuming talks in Egypt to broker a pause in Israel’s Gaza offensive in return for the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

The main sticking point appears to be if the truce will be permanent – as Hamas insists – or not.

Mr Netanyahu said the proposed deal would keep Hamas in control of Gaza, posing a threat to Israel.

It is thought the wording being discussed in the Cairo talks involves a 40-day pause in fighting while hostages are released, and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

An adviser to the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group was looking at the latest proposal with “full seriousness”.

But he repeated a demand that any deal would have to explicitly include an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and complete end to the war.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said: “We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding communities, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country.”

“Israel will not agree to Hamas’ demands,” he added.
Separately, an anonymous Israeli government official told local media on Saturday that Israel would “under no circumstances agree to end the war as part of an agreement to free our abductees”.

They added: “The IDF will enter Rafah and destroy the remaining Hamas battalions there – whether there is a temporary pause to free our captives or not.”

Mr Netanyahu has faced pressure from within his far-right coalition to press ahead with the long-promised offensive in Gaza’s southern-most city, where an estimated 1.4 million people have taken shelter after fleeing fighting in northern and central parts of the strip.

The US – Israel’s biggest diplomatic and military ally – is reluctant to back a new offensive that could cause significant civilian casualties, and has insisted on seeing a plan to protect displaced Palestinians first.

The Israeli government also faces mounting pressure at home. Thousands of Israelis rallied Saturday night calling for a deal to bring hostages home.

Protesters in Tel Aviv chanted “war is not holy, life is”, with some accusing Mr Netanyahu of aiming to prolong the conflict in Gaza.

Saturday’s demonstrations in Israel were the latest display of the increased domestic pressure Mr Netanyahu is facing to secure the return of the hostages.

Of the 252 who were kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October, 128 are still unaccounted for – and among them, at least 34 are presumed dead.

Natalie Eldor, a protester in Tel Aviv, told Reuters news agency she was there to “support a deal now, yesterday”.

“We need to bring all the hostages back, the live ones, the dead ones. We got to bring them back. We got to switch this government,” she added.

Some who gathered at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv accused the prime minister of undermining the proposed truce, while others called for an end to the war.

Addressing the prospects of a truce on Saturday, minister Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said: “An official response to the outline has not yet been received. When accepted – the war management cabinet will meet and discuss it.

“Until then, I suggest to the ‘political sources’ and all decision-makers to wait for official updates, to act calmly and not to get into hysteria for political reasons.”

Ceasefire talks have gone on for months without a breakthrough, and there has not been a pause in fighting or a release of hostages since the end of November.

bbc

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