Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Gaza offensive “is not close to being over” as he faces intense domestic pressure to reach a deal to bring home more than 100 Israeli hostages believed to have remained in captivity in Gaza.
“We are expanding the fight in the coming days and it will be a long battle,” Netanyahu said after his visit to Gaza on Monday, according to a statement from his Likud party.
As he promised to continue the war during a speech in Parliament, relatives of the hostages interrupted him and demanded their immediate return. “Now! Now!” they shouted.
Families awaiting the return of their loved ones after 80 days of captivity booed the prime minister, as Netanyahu said Israeli forces needed “more time” to increase military pressure on Hamas, which he said he would contribute to obtaining the release of the captives.
Later, protesters gathered near the Defense Ministry headquarters in central Tel Aviv before a war cabinet meeting, holding signs demanding “Release our hostages now – at all costs!”
On Monday, opposition leader Yair Lapid said Israel must “bring the hostages home now,” adding: “We are not doing enough.” His remarks were greeted with applause from the families of the hostages.
The growing number of Israeli soldiers killed in ground operations also threatens to undermine public support for the war. The Israeli army announced the deaths of two additional soldiers on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths in the war to 156.
Israel is under pressure from its closest ally, the United States, to reduce the intensity of operations in Gaza and reduce the number of civilian deaths.
Israel declared war in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. The Palestinian militant group killed 1,140 people and took another 240 hostage. Since then, more than 20,400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to Hamas-run health services.
More than 100 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday evening, including at least 70 in bombings that hit a residential block in the Maghazi refugee camp near Deir al-Balah, reports said. health officials in Gaza. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the Maghazi incident.
Despite a much-anticipated UN Security Council resolution on Friday calling for urgent action by all parties to work towards a ceasefire, fighting on the ground has intensified since the breakdown of a seven-day truce in early December.
Early Tuesday, Palestinian residents reported several airstrikes near Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the largest medical facility in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house in the al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian proposal to end the war was met with public coldness by Israel and Hamas.
The three-step plan would involve an initial cessation of hostilities for at least a week and the release of all remaining Israeli civilian hostages held in Gaza; then a week during which female soldiers would be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; and finally a month-long negotiation period for the release of male soldiers in exchange for Israeli withdrawal.
On Monday evening, it was reported that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had rejected the Egyptian proposal. The Israeli war cabinet is reportedly discussing the Egyptian proposal.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Netanyahu outlined his “three preconditions for peace,” which included the destruction of Hamas, the “demilitarization of Gaza” and the “deradicalization (of) Palestinian society.”
In his opinion piece, he said that once these goals are achieved, “Gaza can be rebuilt and the prospects for broader peace in the Middle East will become a reality.”
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
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