Netanyahu says no Gaza ceasefire until Hamas destroyed

By Thomson Reuters Jun 1, 2024 | 7:13 AM

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday there could be no permanent ceasefire in Gaza until Hamas was destroyed, casting doubt on a key part of a truce proposal that U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel itself had made.

Biden said on Friday that Israel had proposed a deal involving an initial six-week truce with a partial Israeli military withdrawal and the release of some hostages while the two sides negotiated “a permanent end to hostilities”.

However, Netanyahu’s statement on Saturday said any notion that Israel would agree a permanent ceasefire before “the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities” was “a non-starter”.

Peace talks have sputtered for months, with Israel demanding the release of all hostages and the destruction of Hamas, while Hamas demands a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the release of many Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas said on Friday it was ready to engage “positively and in a constructive manner” but one of the group’s senior officials Mahmoud Mardawi said in a Qatari television interview that it had not yet received the details of the proposal.

“No agreement can be reached before the demand for the withdrawal of the occupation army and a ceasefire is met,” he said. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction.

The war began on Oct. 7 when fighters from the Islamist Palestinian group rampaged into southern Israel from Gaza, killing more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing more than 250 as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza has left the territory in ruins, led to widespread starvation, and killed more than 36,000 people according to Palestinian health authorities, who say most of the dead are civilians.

Last month Netanyahu defied calls from world leaders by sending Israeli troops into Rafah, the last place in tiny, crowded Gaza that they had not yet entered in force, displacing more than a million Palestinians who had been sheltering there.

Israel said Rafah, on the frontier with Egypt, was the last main stronghold for Hamas in Gaza and its campaign to destroy the group could not succeed until it had entered the city.

On Wednesday Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said he expected the war in Gaza to continue for the rest of 2024 at least.


In the United States, Israel’s main ally, the extent of civilian suffering in Gaza has put pressure on Biden to stop the war. The president is hoping to win a second presidential term in the November election.

“It’s time for this war to end and for the day after to begin,” Biden said on Friday, calling on Israel’s leadership to resist pressure from those in the country who wanted the war to go on “indefinitely”.

Inside Israel, anger at the Oct. 7 attack has generated widespread support for the war in Gaza although there is also pressure on the governing coalition to bring back the remaining hostages.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to agree a hostages and ceasefire deal, saying his party would support it even if right-wing factions in the governing coalition rebelled, meaning a deal would likely pass in parliament.

“The government of Israel cannot ignore President Biden’s consequential speech. There is a deal on the table and it should be made,” Lapid said in a social media post on Saturday.

Finding language to describe an end to hostilities has proven a major sticking point throughout. Mediators have previously pushed for the two sides to agree to a sustained period of calm as a compromise.

Israel says a permanent ceasefire is not possible against a group that wants to destroy it and that launched the Oct. 7 attack.

Hamas says it will not agree any deal that allows Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to continue.

(Reporting by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Frances Kerry)