Israeli PM says ‘there is no real proposal by Hamas’
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed back after speculation that a new release of Gaza hostages is in the works, saying Israel is taking an unspecified initiative in the absence of an offer by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“There is no real proposal by Hamas. It’s not true,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office quoted him as telling representatives of hostage families after some relatives stormed a committee session in parliament, demanding a release deal.
“I am saying this as clearly as I can because there are so many incorrect statements which are certainly agonising for you,” Netanyahu added.
“Conversely, there is an initiative on our part, on which I shall not elaborate.”
Netanyahu’s government argues that an Israeli offensive, launched in retaliation for the cross-border Hamas killing and kidnapping spree of October 7, is necessary to pressure the Palestinian captors into releasing hostages on acceptable terms.
But many of the relatives worry the hostages may be killed.
US, Qatari and Egyptian efforts to mediate another release seem far from reconciling Israel’s drive to destroy Hamas and Hamas’ demand that Israel withdraw and free all of the thousands of Palestinians – including senior militants – from its prisons.
The fate of the hostages – 27 of whom Israel says have died in Gaza – has riveted the country.
But relatives fear that war fatigue could soften that focus.
Demonstrations that initially promoted Israeli unity have become more aggressive.
Families and supporters have also started camping outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coastal home as well as the Knesset building.
“We will not leave him until the hostages are back,” said Eli Stivi, whose son Idan is being held in Gaza.
Regular weekend rallies demanding the hostages be released have in recent weeks been reinforced by demonstrations calling for an election that might topple the religious and nationalist coalition government.
Israeli forces, advancing deep into western Khan Younis in Gaza’s bloodiest fighting so far in January, stormed one hospital and put another under siege on Monday, cutting the wounded off from trauma care, Palestinian officials said.
Troops advanced for the first time into the al-Mawasi district near the Mediterranean coast, west of Khan Younis, the main city in southern Gaza.
There, they stormed the al-Khair hospital and were arresting medical staff, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al Qidra told Reuters.
There was no immediate word from Israel on the situation at the hospital.
Qidra said at least 50 people were killed overnight in Khan Younis while the sieges of medical facilities meant dozens of dead and wounded were beyond the reach of rescuers.
“The Israeli occupation is preventing ambulance vehicles from moving to recover bodies of martyrs and the wounded from western Khan Younis,” he said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said tanks had surrounded another Khan Younis hospital, al-Amal, headquarters of the rescue agency, which had lost contact with staff there.
“We are deeply worried about what is happening around our hospital,” Tommaso Della Longa, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said.
“Ambulances cannot go in or out and we cannot provide any emergency health care to people in the area.”
Israel says Hamas fighters operate from in and around hospitals, which Hamas and medical staff deny.
“Hamas embeds its operation within and under hospitals and other medical facilities,” said Elad Goren of COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry branch that co-ordinates with Palestinians.
“A particular effort led by a dedicated team has been put on making sure that civilians have access to medical care.”
Residents said the bombardment from air, land and sea was the most intense in the southern sector of Gaza since the war began in October.
Video filmed from afar showed scattered civilians wandering around a ghost city, crowded with tents with abandoned laundry flapping on lines, as gunfire rattled and smoke rose into the sky.
Israel launched an offensive last week to capture Khan Younis, which it now says is the principal headquarters of the Hamas militants responsible for the October 7 attacks on southern Israel that killed 1200 people, according to Israeli tallies.Reuters