Netanyahu says intense phase of Hamas war about to end

Netanyahu says intense phase of Hamas war about to end

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the most intense phase of the war with Palestinian militant group Hamas is drawing to a close and another stage would see lower-intensity fighting, along with the potential repositioning of troops to the northern border with Lebanon.

“We need to eliminate all the Hamas battalions, and now we are in Rafah, and we are about to finish this stage,” Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 14 on Sunday, though he pledged the war would not end.

Israel is fighting what it says are the last Hamas battalions hiding out in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that Israeli troops entered last month and have slowly expanded across. The city had been a refuge for more than 1 million Palestinian civilians, but was evacuated when Israeli forces moved in.

Netanyahu said in the interview Sunday that operations would continue in Gaza to complete the goal of the elimination of Hamas even after the more intense phase ends. He also cast doubt on a cease-fire and hostage release deal. President Biden has proposed a three-phase plan to release hostages, withdraw Israeli troops from populated areas of Gaza and maintain a cease-fire as long as negotiations continue.

“I am not ready to stop the war and leave Hamas intact,” Netanyahu said. “We will make a deal and complete the goal of destroying Hamas.”

“I don’t see any factor that will eliminate terrorism, only the IDF,” he added, referring to the Israeli military.

Hamas killed more than 1,100 people and took roughly 250 hostages on Oct. 7, initiating the war. Some 120 hostages still remain in Gaza, with an unclear number still alive.

Netanyahu on Sunday added that some troops would move north to Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group continues to trade deadly fire with Israel over the border as the conflict approaches a potential all-out war.

“In the north, the agreement will not be an agreement on paper. It will include the physical removal of Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said. He appeared to dismiss the diplomatic efforts of a special U.S. envoy in the region to de-escalate tensions at the Israel-Lebanon border.

Netanyahu has faced pressure in Israel to come up with a clear post-war plan, with some of his detractors accusing him of prolonging the war in Gaza for his political survival. The Israeli leader faces questions about the failure of security on Oct. 7, along with prewar scandals, including a controversial judicial overhaul plan and charges of fraud.

The families of the hostages have demanded the release of their loved ones and protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Netanyahu, whose war Cabinet collapsed earlier this month when centrist opposition leader Benny Gantz left the group and accused the Israeli prime minister of failing to tackle the war’s most vexing problems, including a more concrete post-war plan.

Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 14 that protesters should “come to your senses” and called for unity. He also reiterated his plans for a post-war Gaza that includes indefinite Israeli security control and local non-Hamas Palestinian governance.

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