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Netanyahu: Israel ‘one step away’ from winning war with Hamas

Created: Sunday, 07 April 2024 15:08
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Six months into Israel’s war with Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Sunday that it is near victory as the country pulled troops out of southern Gaza while maintaining a “significant force” elsewhere in Gaza.

"We are one step away from victory,” he told his Cabinet. “But the price we paid is painful and heartbreaking."

Even as stalled cease-fire negotiations resume in Cairo, Netanyahu pledged, "There will be no cease-fire without the return of hostages. It just won't happen."

Hamas is believed to still be holding about 100 hostages in Gaza tunnels, among the 250 or so it captured in its shock October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. As of mid-February, 112 hostages have been freed, most during a week-long cease-fire in November, while 36 more are believed to have died or been killed in Gaza during the six months of fighting.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says Israel’s counter-offensive has killed more than 33,000 people, two-thirds of them women and children. The Israeli military says that the total includes thousands of militants it has killed.

With the carnage mounting, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, appealed for an end to the war.

He acknowledged the “barbaric act” of the initial Hamas attack but said, “This atrocity does not justify the horrific ongoing bombardment, siege and health system demolition by Israel in Gaza, killing, injuring and starving hundreds of thousands of civilians, including aid workers.”

“The deaths and grievous injuries of thousands of children in Gaza will remain a stain on all of humanity,” he said on the X media platform. “This assault on present and future generations must end.”

Netanyahu said that despite growing international pressure, including from its chief ally, the United States, Israel would not give in to "extreme" demands from Gaza's Islamist rulers, Hamas, that it pull all its troops from the narrow territory along the Mediterranean Sea.

In response to a demand last week from U.S. President Joe Biden, Israel agreed to open a new humanitarian aid roadway at Erez at the northern Gaza border with Israel, but operations there have yet to start. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are famished, with many sheltering in makeshift tents near Rafah at the Egyptian border in southern Gaza.

Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground offensive on Rafah to destroy four Hamas battalions, while safeguarding more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there. But Israel has made no public statement on where it would move the Palestinians to keep them out of harm’s way.

The U.S. and other Western supporters of Israel have expressed their opposition to any ground offensive at Rafah, fearing that civilians would be caught in the crossfire between Israel and the militants.

Israel on Sunday pulled troops out of southern Gaza, including from the city of Khan Younis, the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli media said, after months of fierce fighting with Hamas militants left much of the area’s infrastructure leveled.

“The 98th commando division has concluded its mission in Khan Younis," the army said in a statement. "The division left the Gaza Strip in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations.

"A significant force led by the 162nd division and the Nahal brigade continues to operate in the Gaza Strip and will preserve the IDF's freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations," the statement said.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told ABC’s “This Week” show that Israel's partial withdrawal from southern Gaza is likely so its troops can "rest and refit," rather than a move toward a new operation.

"They've been on the ground for four months, the word we're getting is they're tired, they need to be refit," Kirby said, though he stressed that it was "hard to know exactly what this tells us right now."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the withdrawal was tactical.

An army official told the left-leaning daily, "There's no need for us to remain in the sector without an [operational] need."

Attack on aid workers

World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres renewed his call Sunday for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrike that killed seven of his group’s aid workers last week. Israel has called the attack a “tragic mistake,” while dismissing two officers responsible for the strike and reprimanding others.

In an interview on ABC, Andres thanked Israel for a quick investigation but added, “At the same time, I would say with something so complicated, the investigation should be much more deeper. And I would say that the perpetrator cannot be investigating himself."

He said that Israel was targeting anything that "seems" to move and has been doing so "for too long."

"This doesn't seem like a war against terror. This doesn't seem any more like a war about defending Israel," he said. "It really, at this point, seems like a war against humanity itself."

Kirby said, "There’s going to have to be some changes to the way the Israeli Defense Forces are prosecuting these operations in Gaza, to make sure that [the attack on aid workers] doesn't happen again.”

Cease-fire talks

Negotiators began arriving in Cairo on Saturday for renewed negotiations for a cease-fire and the release of hostages.

U.S. CIA Director William Burns arrived Saturday. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and an Israeli delegation were expected to take part in the talks as well, Egypt's Al Qahera news reported.

Hamas said in a statement that it is sending its deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil Al-Hayya. It also reiterated its core demands: a complete cease-fire in Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Biden wrote letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on the state of the hostage talks, and "he urged them to secure commitments from Hamas to agree and abide by a deal."

Kirby said last week Biden also told Netanyahu to empower his negotiators in Cairo to agree on a cease-fire deal as soon as possible, while allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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