Israel-Hamas War and Gaza News: Latest Updates

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza faded on Monday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas both issued statements that narrowed the chances of reaching a compromise on the future of the territory.

In a statement on Sunday night, Mr Netanyahu said he would only agree to a deal that “allows Israel to continue fighting until all the objectives of the war are achieved”. The comments reiterated his long-standing position that the war must continue until Israel destroys Hamas’ military and governance capabilities.

Hamas, which opposes any ceasefire unless it is permanent, that said on Monday that Israel’s continued military operations across Gaza risked bringing “the negotiation process back to ground zero.”

Netanyahu’s insistence on continuing the fighting drew widespread criticism on Monday in Israel, where there was growing support for a ceasefire that would have included the release of at least some Israeli hostages still held in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s ruling coalition depends on the support of ultranationalist leaders who oppose a permanent ceasefire, and the backlash on Monday sparked accusations that he was put personal interests above national interests.

Mr Netanyahu has insisted that the complete defeat of Hamas is in Israel’s strategic interests. But others say that freeing the hostages is a higher priority and that the prime minister’s main motivation is to avoid the collapse of his government.

The claims illustrate a broader dispute over Netanyahu, whose decision to stay in politics in 2020 despite facing trial on corruption charges has deepened deep divisions in Israeli society and sparked years of political turmoil.

Military leader of the country believe a ceasefire would be the quickest way to free the approximately 120 Israelis, some alive and some dead, who remain in Gaza. Recent polling also shows that a majority of Israelis consider the release of the hostages a higher priority than continuing the war against Hamas in Gaza.

Still, talks on a deal continued Monday in Cairo, where Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, gathered for talks brokered by the Egyptian government. More discussions are scheduled for later this week in Qatar, another intermediary between Israel and Hamas. Some officials and analysts said the comments from both Netanyahu and Hamas could be interpreted as an attempt to reach a hard-line deal rather than reject the process.

As well as reaching a compromise on the length of the ceasefire, the parties need to agree on the number and identity of Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged for the hostages. They also need to agree on the extent of the Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza; Hamas wants a complete withdrawal, while Israel hopes to retain control of some of the territory it has captured.

After months of failed talks, hopes of a deal were revived last week amid reports that Hamas had become more flexible on key points, prompting Netanyahu to send negotiators to Qatar.

But Mr Netanyahu’s grip on power depends on the support of two far-right parties that oppose any deal that would leave Hamas in power in Gaza. Critics say this makes him wary of committing to a hostage deal that could lead to the collapse of his coalition and prompt early elections that polls show he would lose. Mr Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruptioncharges he denies, and his political future would be in jeopardy if he lost power for the third time in his career.

“The simple truth is this: Benjamin Netanyahu does not want a hostage deal,” said Ben Caspit, a biographer and prominent critic of the prime minister. Written on social media. “He may be willing to return the hostages, but not at the expense of the safety of his alliance.”

An influential minister in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, Bezalel Smotrich, underscored the fragility of the coalition on Monday by social media allusions that his party could leave the coalition if the prime minister reaches a deal that keeps Hamas in power in Gaza.

“We will not participate in the Hamas surrender deal,” said Mr. Smotrich, a far-right whose party holds the balance of power in Mr. Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

“This deal is a failure and a humiliation for Israel,” Mr. Smotrich added.

Some analysts believe Mr Netanyahu may not oppose the deal but wants to maximise its chances of success by delaying it until late July, when parliament is in recess.

Without a Knesset, lawmakers would find it much harder to topple the government, allowing Netanyahu to strike a deal that his coalition partners might oppose, said Nadav Shtrauchler, a former strategist for the prime minister.

“He’s trying to create space to maneuver — and to do that, he needs time,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

Netanyahu could also use tough negotiating tactics to force Hamas to make further concessions. Every day that passes, Israel’s military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah weakens Hamas’s position there, Shtrauchler said.

“The military’s efforts in Gaza could help him get more from Hamas,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

However, opposition leader Yair Lapid, who said Mr Netanyahu’s opposition to a quick deal was largely political, offered to help the prime minister stay in power if the government collapsed over a hostage deal on Monday.

“It is not true that he had to choose between the lives of the hostages and continuing his term as prime minister,” Mr. Lapid said in a speech. “I promised him a safety net, and I will keep that promise.”

Mr Netanyahu did not immediately respond to Mr Lapid’s offer, but analysts and allies of the prime minister said Mr Netanyahu was unlikely to accept it because he did not trust Mr Lapid’s intentions.

“Lapid would give him a parachute for this particular deal, but 24 hours later he would be gone,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

“That is not something Netanyahu can consider credible,” Mr. Shtrauchler added.

Gabby Sobelman Contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.


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