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Netanyahu Downplays Immediate Gaza Cease-fire Prospects

A ball of fire and black smoke rises moments after an Israeli air strike targeted a residential building in the city of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on June 3, 2024.
A ball of fire and black smoke rises moments after an Israeli air strike targeted a residential building in the city of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on June 3, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday downplayed the immediate prospects for a cease-fire in the war with Hamas in Gaza, saying that a deal proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden to halt the fighting and release militant-held hostages was a partial outline.

Netanyahu has long pushed for the elimination of Hamas in Gaza, but he said in a statement, "The claims that we have agreed to a cease-fire without our conditions being met are incorrect.”

Biden outlined a new cease-fire deal in Gaza last week that included an initial halt in fighting and the release of some hostages held by Hamas.

Even as Israeli officials questioned the details of the truce proposal, its military announced that four more hostages captured by Hamas are now confirmed as dead, including three elderly men who pleaded in vain with their Hamas captors for their release.

U.S. officials are saying they believe that if Hamas agrees to the proposed truce, which it has yet to do, then Israel would also. An Israeli government spokesperson said that "the war will be stopped for the purpose of returning the hostages" after which discussions would follow on how to achieve the war's goal of eliminating Hamas.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the proposal with Israeli officials, the State Department said late Sunday, saying the plan would “advance Israel’s long-term security interests.”

Blinken held separate calls with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet minister Benny Gantz, telling them that the cease-fire proposal would “secure the release of all hostages and surge humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza,” according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

“The secretary commended Israel for the proposal and emphasized that Hamas should take the deal without delay,” Miller said about Blinken’s call with Gantz. The top U.S. diplomat said the peace proposal also could unlock “the possibility of calm along Israel’s border with Lebanon that would allow Israelis to return to their homes.


Mediators urge Israel, Hamas to finalize peace deal

Earlier Sunday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said if Hamas agrees to the proposed truce, the United States expects Israel will accept the plan.

Gallant said Sunday that Israel would not accept Hamas continuing to rule Gaza at any stage during the peace process and that it was examining alternatives to the Islamist group.

"While we conduct our important military actions, the defense establishment is simultaneously assessing a governing alternative to Hamas," Gallant said in a statement.

"We will isolate areas (in Gaza), remove Hamas operatives from these areas and introduce forces that will enable an alternative government to form – an alternative that threatens Hamas," Gallant said.

Gallant did not elaborate on possible alternatives.

Netanyahu declared Saturday that "Israel's conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas's military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel."

Domestic divisions

Netanyahu faces a fractured right-wing coalition government and intense domestic pressure from opposing sides in his country on Israel’s plan for Gaza and Hamas.

Two right-wing members of his Cabinet, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, threatened Saturday to bring down Netanyahu’s government if he agreed to Biden’s proposal.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to take the deal and offered to support the prime minister if Ben Gvir and Smotrich bolted.

"I remind Netanyahu that he has our safety net for a hostage deal," Lapid said on the X platform, the former Twitter.

The families of the hostages pressed Israel and Hamas to agree to the deal. Tens of thousands of protesters rallied again Saturday in Tel Aviv for the return of the hostages.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Sunday he had told Netanyahu, “... I will give him and the government my full support for a deal which will see the release of the hostages."

"It is our inherent obligation to bring them home within the framework of a deal that preserves the security interests of the State of Israel," Herzog said in an address at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Palestinian militant group Hamas, meanwhile, said it "views positively" what Biden on Friday described as the Israeli plan.

However, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Mardawi said Saturday in a Qatari television interview, "No agreement can be reached before the demand for the withdrawal of the occupation army and a cease-fire is met," calling for an end to the war and Israel’s full troop withdrawal from Gaza.

Time for the war to end

Biden said Friday the peace deal would involve an initial six-week cease-fire with a partial Israeli military withdrawal, and the release of some hostages, while "a permanent end to hostilities" is negotiated through mediators.

"It's time for this war to end, for the day after to begin," he said.

Netanyahu has insisted that according to the "exact outline proposed by Israel," the transition from one phase to the next was "conditional" and drafted to allow it to maintain its war aims.

Hamas launched a terror attack October 7 on Israel, killing about 1,200 people according to Israeli officials and taking roughly 250 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory bombardments and ground offensive have killed at least 36,400 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The death toll includes both civilians and combatants.

Some material was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.