Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to confirm reports about a possible deal with Hamas to free Israeli hostages trapped in Gaza on Sunday, but attributed any movement toward an agreement to Israel’s deadly ground offensive in the region.
“There could be [a deal], but I think the less I said about it, the more I’ll increase the chances that it materializes,” Netanyahu told NBC’s Kristen Welker on Sunday during an interview on “Meet the Press.”
“I can say that we weren’t close at all until we started the ground operation,” Netanyahu said, adding that the pressure the Israel Defense Forces has put on Hamas leadership “the one thing that might create a deal.”
Israel began its ground invasion into Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack, during which around 1,200 Israelis were killed, according to Israeli officials, and an estimated 240 people taken hostage.
Thousands more Palestinians have been killed since the war began — more than 11,000, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between the death of soldiers and civilians.
Israel has come under intense international scrutiny in recent weeks, as the number of civilian casualties in Gaza continues to rise. Despite calls for a ceasefire from other Middle Eastern countries, France and a handful of U.S. leaders, Israel does not plan to end the fighting until it destroys Hamas’ military and governance capabilities, Netanyahu said Sunday.
“I assure you we will complete the task,” Netanyahu said, claiming that Israel intends to do so “with as few civilian casualties as we can.”
“We want to minimize civilian casualties and we want to minimize casualties on our side while maximizing the casualties on the Hamas terrorists,” he added.
The U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights has claimed Israel has not made such an effort.
“The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians is also a war crime, as is unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians,” Volker Türk said, saying that both Hamas and Israel have committed war crimes during the conflict.
But speaking after meeting with Netanyahu, Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said calls for a ceasefire are based on a misunderstanding of the situation.
“For those calling for a ceasefire,” Lawler said on ABC’s “This Week,” “they totally misunderstand the situation here. Hamas is not someone, some organization that is going to abide by a ceasefire. They are hellbent on eradicating the state of Israel and eliminating the Jewish people.”