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Netanyahu tells Blinken he will not agree to end war on Hamas as part of hostage deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday that he would not accept an end to the war in Gaza as part of a potential hostage deal, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

  • “He told Blinken that we are interested in reaching a deal, and determined to topple Hamas,” said the official.

Israel conveyed its latest offer to Hamas through Egyptian mediators late last week, and is expecting a response Wednesday evening, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu also told Blinken during their meeting in Jerusalem that a hostage deal with Hamas does not mean an invasion of Rafah would be avoided, the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel.

  • “The Rafah operation does not depend on anything,” said the PMO. “Prime Minister Netanyahu made this clear to Secretary Blinken.”

Meanwhile, Blinken “reiterated the United States’ clear position on Rafah,” said State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller.

The US readout did not say exactly what that position is, but the Biden administration has been firm in its opposition to a Rafah operation without a credible plan to evacuate civilians, even calling a move into the southern Gaza city a “red line.”

The US readout said that Blinken “emphasized that it is Hamas that is standing in the way of a ceasefire.”

In his meeting with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem earlier in the day, Blinken expressed similar sentiments, placing the blame squarely on Hamas for the failure to reach a hostage deal since November.

The Gaza terror organization is “the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved,” said the top US diplomat, who is in Israel for the seventh time since the massive Hamas attack on October 7.

  • “No delays, no excuses,” said Blinken. “The time is now.”

A report from the Lebanese news outlet al-Akhbar indicated that Israel’s offer would see at least 33 hostages released in the first phase, followed by later stages that would establish a sustainable calm and possible full withdrawal of IDF troops.

The first stage of the deal, to last 40 days, reportedly involves a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the Strip in order to allow the movement of humanitarian aid and the return of civilians to their homes.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said that Blinken’s comments blaming the terror group for a failure to reach a deal were an attempt to put pressure on it and acquit Israel.

Abu Zuhri also told Reuters that the group was still studying the recent truce offer.

In a change of tune from recent criticism of Israeli policies, Blinken also blamed Hamas for the suffering of Gazan civilians: “We also have to be focused on people in Gaza who are suffering in this crossfire of Hamas’s making, and so focused on getting them the assistance they need — the food, medicine, the water, the shelter.”

In a public statement ahead of their meeting, Herzog blasted the potential issuing of arrest warrants against Israeli leaders by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

  • “Our enemies and other elements are trying to undermine the entire process by using international legal forums that were established in order to have a world order that pursues peace, and pursues the values and norms that we all believe in in the modern world,” said Herzog. “Especially the efforts done at the International Criminal Court.”
  • “Israel has a very strong legal system, very strong adjudication and law enforcement system, and it has pursued legal steps from the highest authorities in this land [against] any other citizen,” said Herzog.

Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday evening following visits to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The top US diplomat was set to meet Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Kerem Shalom Crossing and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi at Ashdod Port in the afternoon to examine humanitarian aid flowing through to Gaza.

Washington has intensified its pressure on Hamas to reach a deal — a message pushed by Blinken during his tour.

  • “Now it’s on Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Jordan. “No more delays, no more excuses… We want to see in the coming days this agreement coming together.”

A truce is “the most effective way to relieve the suffering” of civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip, he told reporters near Amman.

Blinken saw off a first Jordanian truck convoy of aid heading to Gaza through the Erez Crossing reopened by Israel, and urged a redoubling of the aid efforts.

“It is real and important progress, but more still needs to be done,” he said.

Israel has drastically increased humanitarian aid to Gaza since the deadly April 1 strike on World Central Kitchen aid workers, but the situation remains dire. The vast majority of residents have fled their homes and the United Nations has warned of looming famine.

A US-built floating pier on Gaza’s coast is expected to be completed later this week, said Cyprus, to receive aid arriving through a “maritime corridor” via the eastern Mediterranean nation.

Blinken said the pier would “significantly increase the assistance” but was not “a substitute” for greater overland access.

  • It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

  • Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.
  • The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.
  • One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Source: TOI